When we follow the ministry of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, we get a picture of the political culture within which He is ministering. Some scriptures give this picture in a much more pronounced way than others. The very birth of baby Jesus triggers a political crisis as Herod is threatened by the idea of a born king. “When Herod heard this, he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him” (Matt. 2:3). The word “disturbed” means to be “troubled, agitated or to stir water”. Contrary to modern or popular culture, the birth of Jesus did not come with well wishes and exchange of gifts, instead, it triggered political chaos, shenanigans, and maneuverings – the King was born! The Magi (wise men from the East who had come to worship baby Jesus) were not just scientists or astronomers, they also had intuitive understanding of the nature of politics and knew how to engage with politicians in the process of scientific mission (i.e. the complexity of relationship between politicians and scientists is not a new thing). After interacting with Herod, the Magi realized that he was threatened by the birth of baby Jesus, and they decided not to give him the full details of the whereabouts of the baby. “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious…” (Matt. 2:16). On the one hand, the word “outwitted” means “to mock and to scoff”, on the other hand, it means “to play sport with or against someone”. By outwitting Herod, the Magi were basically not only putting him in his correct position in relation to the mission (Herod was simply an earthly king within an earthly empire and had no authority to interfere with this divine mission), but they were also outmaneuvering him and showing him that his intelligence structures were not capable of dealing with the situation at hand. We know the end result – Herod was furious and decreed a genocide of babies. This marked the “first Christmas”!
Later on we see Jesus in full action as John the Baptist is about to be executed by another Herod – Herod the tetrarch (see Luke 3:19-20). Confronted by imminent death and considering the impact of his ministry, John sends messengers to Jesus, to ask if Jesus is the Christ (Matt. 11:2-3). In the process of giving a response, Jesus says the following…
Matt 11:7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. NIV
Matt 11:12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 He who has ears, let him hear. NIV
The first thing that Jesus does is to distinguish between the ministers of the gospel of the Kingdom of God and those in king’s palaces. Jesus implies that John is not a man in fine clothes and who enjoys political power over a jurisdiction. John is a prophet! Jesus connects this to another reality, that even though John does not have political authority, but he is able to advance the Kingdom of God. The implication is that even though John has neither enjoyed earthly political authority nor received honour from an earthly king, he has been able to advance the Kingdom of God. From a place of obscurity, in the desert, he has established kingdom advanced, and has influenced masses of people. The Kingdom of God cannot be authorized by earthly kings! And yet like John the Baptist, those who are ministers of the Kingdom of God must accept the fact that they operate within the limitation of the laws and legal authorities of the jurisdictions to which they have been sent by God.
Later, Jesus is confronted by another situation as Pharisees ask a political question, “is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” In answering the question, “Jesus said, “show me the coin used for paying the tax. Whose portrait is this and whose inscription?” Caesar’s, they replied. Then He said to them, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what God’s”” (Matt. 22:15-22). There is no better place to ask this question other than in Jerusalem, a city that was surely under constant surveillance by the Intelligence of Rome. And there is no better company in which to ask this question other than in the company of the Herodians or supporters of Herod, as Matthew 22:16 reveals. This is clearly a political situation playing out.
The answer of the Lord is fundamental for us as church: “give Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. This answer goes beyond the paying of taxes, it provides a kingdom worldview that helps us navigate the constant tension between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world. If the coin has a portrait and an inscription of Caesar, then the Jews must acknowledge the authority of the political jurisdiction they find themselves in. Jesus is saying that not only does the portrait of the coin reflect the political authority of a king, but also the responsibility of the one regulating the order of life in that jurisdiction. For a people to have peace and wellbeing within a jurisdiction, someone must assume authority and responsibility over that jurisdiction. Jesus is saying that our honour to Caesar is not in conflict with our honour to God. And our honour to God cannot be hindered by anyone who is sitting on a throne. Jesus is saying that we can exist in the most limiting, brutal and oppressive political regimes, and yet be able to honour God and advance His Kingdom. Like John the Baptist, we can in fact advance the Kingdom of God even though political authorities do not honour or acknowledge us.
Daniel the prophet had earlier written…
Dan 2:20 “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. 21 He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. NIV
Rom 13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. NIV
And the apostle Peter also declared…
1 Peter 2:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. NIV
In the scriptures above, we are provided with a framework of how to navigate through political authorities and processes. We get the idea that the nature of our citizenship and of political engagement must always seek to promote the values of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, above those of our own interest, Political Party or Political Ideology. We also get the reality in these scriptures that it is God who establishes the king (or a political authority), and it is God who deposes the king. God does not only establish political authority, but He also has a position about the nature, character and conduct of political authority. In navigating political processes, we must therefore be guided by how God deals with kings, as reflected in the examples of the Pharaohs (who were a symbol of political power). In times of a good Pharaoh, church is expected to be a “Joseph”, to offer cooperation, wisdom and resources. But in times of an evil Pharaoh, church is expected to be a “Moses”, to stand for justice and righteousness, and to declare, “let my people go”. The character and behaviour of the one sitting on the throne determine the prophetic position of the church in society.
To further illustrate this point, we see that the story of Christ and His crucifixion reflects this reality that the grand and eternal plan of God flows within earthly, limited and sometimes imperfect political authorities and laws of the nations of the earth.
1 Tim 6:13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you… NIV
Acts 2:23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. NIV
The full cooperation of the Lord in the crucifixion, to even appear before an earthly authority – Pontius Pilate – a political and judiciary authority that did not even know what truth was (John 18:37&38), became an example of how to advance the kingdom of God in the earth. Jesus was subjecting Himself to the laws of the land. Thus, the crucifixion is a multi-layered experience that reflects the earthly and imperfect judicial process on the one hand, and the eternal plan of salvation on the other. By descending upon a world that was under the government of Caesar and the Roman empire, even the King of the universe was consequently going to be subjected to the kind of judicial process in which He was going to be publicly crucified and hanged on the Cross. But this was in fact the eternal and predestined plan of God, that Jesus would come to be offered as a Lamb for our sins. If this was playing out in modern-day nation-states, instead of the Cross, we would be talking of the rope, electrocution or lethal injection as a symbol of redemption. The point is, just like Christ, church functions in an imperfect world with laws and regulations, to advance a perfect and eternal kingdom. And just like Christ did not interrupt His execution and crucifixion, by trying to raise the issue of his rights as an innocent and falsely accused convict, church cannot seek the authority of the State, to advance a Kingdom that is not of this world, and yet Church must always seek to function according to the laws of the land. This is the tension of kingdom ministry. Like Christ who came in the form of a human, who was born of a woman and under law, to redeem those under law (Phil. 2:7&8, Gal. 4:4&5), Church must be found functioning in the very imperfect and limiting conditions of the earth, in order to redeem those who exist in the same limiting conditions. If the church protests against these earthly conditions and against governments, because she cannot fulfill the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ, then surely she cannot expect ordinary humans and believers to navigate the Kingdom of God in the same conditions.
No Political Authority has power to decree the essentiality of Church
Having reflected on these issues, we must state that there is no earthly king, president or prime minister that has authority to declare church as an essential community or service. Any president or prime minister who stands behind a podium to make such declarations is not only overstepping their authority, but simply does not understand the very existential nature and identity of church. Equally, if church erupts in joy as a response to such proclamations, she is assuming a position that is not only unbiblical, but that may see her “in bed with the Herods”. The trajectory and outcome of this reality is deeply dangerous for the effective functioning of church in society.
The essentiality of the church has already been declared by the King of kings and Lord of lords. Let’s remember whose we are…
1 Tim 6:13 …I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time — God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords. NIV
Jesus is King: the Greek word for “king” defines one who is sovereign and who is the basis and foundation of power; a monarch.
He is Lord: the Greek word for “lord” defines one who is a master and who possesses authority.
He is the Ruler: this word defines an officer of great authority, a possessor of power and authority who occupies a high position.
Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. NIV
By Him thrones were created: the word “throne” defines a stately seat or sit attributed to kings. In modern terms, these define political constituencies and legal mechanisms (constitutions) upon which presidents and prime ministers exercise their power.
By Him dominions or powers were created: the word “powers” defines dominions, governments, civil power, magistracy. In modern nation-states, this refers to the spheres of the state – i.e. parliaments, the executive and the judiciary.
By Him principalities or rulers were created: the word “principality” defines those who are chief in a political order. It defines he who is chief in time, place or rank; beginning of something or beginning of a line. In modern terms, this word describes those at the beginning of a political process. Originators of law and policies.
By Him authorities or powers were created: this is the Greek word exousia which is used in the Great Commission in Matt. 28:18-20, “all authority has been given to me” and in Luke 10:19, “behold I give you power”. This word means permission, liberty, the right and power to do something, capacity and ability.
This King – Jesus Christ – declared…
Matt 16:18 …I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” NIV
There is no president or prime minister who has the right to put his voice over this declaration. The existence of the church was established by the ultimate President, King Jesus. This is all that the church needs to function in the earth. Any church whose functionality is derived from some proclamation by an earthly authority will be limited in its authority and reach.
As the church deals with the frustrations around coronavirus containment or lockdown measures, she must consider and reflect on the following issues…
It is understandable that any shepherd is currently burning to see the flock and that any church community is burning to return to normal and full operation of its programs and activities.
As we relax the lockdown, there is a point in granting permission to the church ministers and workers involved in the ministry of community relief (churches have now been getting these permissions).
A lockdown aimed at containing the spread of the virus does not constitute infringement of the rights of belief and religion. It is only a prohibition of the right of movement and gathering – these two realities are hugely different. No one has put a gun on anybody to demand that they renounce Jesus as Lord. Neither is the lockdown a permanent reality. The rights of belief and religion have not been violated or affected.
While is it true that church’s inability to engage in biblical practices of corporate worship and public teaching of the Scriptures is limiting, it does not amount to an infringement of the rights of belief and religion, under current circumstances.
To suggest that there is an infringement of freedom of belief and religion under current conditions is not only legally problematic, it is also not consistent with the principles of the New Covenant. We as church must mean what we say. If we have declared that we are not a building but a people or community, then this lockdown window is an opportunity to powerfully demonstrate this principle.
The purpose of the pastor is to empower believers to face conditions such as the one we are faced with in this pandemic. If believers are not able to walk through this experience, this is a reflection on the church, for which the government cannot be blamed.
Any suggestion that church is being targeted and victimized is simply incorrect – other sectors of society (and even other faiths and religions) are going through the same difficulty as church. And any classification of the lockdown as a form of persecution of some kind, is simply an insult to the martyrs of the faith.
Whilst church communities are not able to fulfill their programs currently, under the New Covenant principles and definitions, church is not on lockdown. Believers’ personal faith, worship, prayer and the personal reading of the Scriptures must continue unhindered, until such time that we are able to have public gatherings. Reflecting on the Principles of the New Covenant is paramount in this context.
It is true that the broader challenge of livelihoods applies to the minsters of the gospel as well. And it is also true that as church, we’ve generally accepted a practice in which people do not give their offerings except in church gatherings. There is no doctrinal basis for this – it may be a preference of ours. On the contrary, Paul made arrangements for offerings to be collected prior to gatherings… “Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem” (1 Cor. 16:1-3, NIV). Therefore, the limitation of income of the church due to the inability to collect offerings in the absence of gatherings points to the need for doctrinal and ministry reform within the church. It is not a problem on the side of the government.
Equally, the church must not make its own challenge of division and inability to facilitate transfer of wealth from rich to poor churches a problem of the government. When the early church was faced with economic hardship, it mobilized and organized itself to facilitate transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor. The church did not go to Caesar for help: “During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29 The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:27-30, NIV).
In this coronavirus pandemic, church must understand the social and economic conditions of its members and must in fact advocate for these before the government. Church must be like “Esther before king Xerxes”, it must speak not only on behalf of its members but also of the marginalized and vulnerable within society. In this sense, church must practice government, because we are God’s ekklesia – a body of citizens of a free kingdom, called out of the world to govern the conditions of life around us. That is, church must distinguish between advocating for its own organizational interests and advocating for the interests of its people (including the society at large). Church is not the “poor cousin” within the system, she is called to be the expression of the government of God in the earth.
Church must use this lockdown as an opportunity for prophetic and operational reflection on the kind of environment (the new world) that it will be functioning in, post the lockdown.
In times like this, church must appreciate its own complexity as a community of faith. Our biblical heritage is that church is like “a voice in the wilderness”, it does not operate from the palace. The Head of the church was born in a manger, in a time where there was no accommodation in hotels and lodges. There is nothing that prevents the birthing of the Purpose of God, even inside the lockdown. Part of our heritage is that church was born in the streets of Jerusalem, it prayed and worshiped in temples, in homes, by the rivers and in prisons. It was never a part of the established Pharisee order.
Church must refuse the temptation to flex itself through democratic populism. It should not matter whether a dominant section of our population is “Christian” or not. We stand in the midst of the nations not as a democratic community but for the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
Church is not essential by political decree. We are essential because the Lord Jesus Christ says so in the Scriptures. We are not only essential when we have public gatherings. We are essential even when we don’t have public gatherings. We advance the Kingdom of God in lack and in abundance, in limitation and in opportunity, in season and out of season.
Pastor – LivingStones Agency
Visionary Leader – Kingdom Humanity Fellowship
Please follow the links below to access other resources relevant to the current pandemic…
God judges a nation not on the basis of how well it treats its billionaires, millionaires, owners of capital or even its middle-class, but based on how its decisions, laws and policies impact on the vulnerable in society. In the Bible, the conventional categories of the vulnerable include – the orphan, the widow, the poorand the alien. This category also extends to include children in general, both orphans and those with parents (who were sometimes sacrificed to gods like Molech in order to secure some fortune in life), as well as the elderly. Concerning the elderly, the Bible proposes a social order in which the elderly are respected. The command goes, “honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12, NIV). The word “honour” means to weigh heavily. The command continues: “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:32, NKJV). The word “honour” in this verse has a different meaning – it means to favour, to be proud of and to make glorious. The apostle Paul later instructed children “to honour their fathers and mothers” (Eph. 6:1-3). He used the word that does not only mean to respect, but that also means to establish the monetary value of a thing. Paul used a business-economic word in the context of social life. Implied in the Scriptures above is the fact that societies tend to sacrifice vulnerable groups when they have limited options in the process of public choice and administration. A pandemic like the one we are currently facing, puts a severe strain on public resources, leaving societies with ugly and undesirable decisions to make. But the case that these Scriptures are making is that we must have a moral compass and a system of public ethics in our political process, in which we are clear about the need to protect the vulnerable in our society – “in the presence of the elderly, we must stand up”, i.e. we must give priority to the vulnerable. We must not push ourselves to a point where we find ourselves unable to fulfill this moral and public duty.
The idea that God judges the nation based on how it treats the most vulnerable in society therefore suggests that when we establish laws and policies, we must do so from the vantage point of the vulnerable. It suggests that our guiding principles in society must be fairness, justice and the need to establish equity and equality. The issue is that this is not always the case in capitalistic societies. Modern capitalistic societies are guided by the famous words of the fictional character, Gordon Gekko, from the movie “Wall Street”, who said, “money never sleeps”. This perhaps captures the imperative of Capitalism, which is not just that money never sleeps, but that money should not be put to sleep. Like this coronavirus, which spreads through human movement, the activity or dormancy of money is equally determined by us – humans. So the real issue is not that “money never sleeps”, it’s that “humans never sleep”. Humans in general and owners of capital in particular, never sleep, as they think about ways of making more money. In other words, Capitalism is not just the thing of the “capitalist”, it’s a social construct in which economic activity and transaction must not be put on pause. The sin of Capitalism is not in the need to make money, it is in the idea that the process of making profit must never stop, even when such a process poses a public health threat. Capitalism tends to destroy the very goal of human wellbeing that it advocates for, because in a capitalistic society, not only does the capitalist have sleepless nights thinking about profits, the laborers themselves hardly get to experience proper physical sleep. In such a system, the health of laborers gets compromised quickly, they age faster than their affluent counterparts. The words of James come to mind: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you” (James 5:1-6, NIV). In a capitalistic world, continuous profit making is a sacred altar whose fire must never be put out, and upon which societies sacrifice human souls of the vulnerable (Rev. 18:11-13).
Capitalism is driven by the laissez faire principle, which does not simply drive the nobility of human freedom as it relates to economic activity, but which always tend to have an unwanted and inevitable consequence of the survival of the fittest. In this context, Capitalism is the jungle of modern human civilization. This capitalistic drive is now playing out in the current debate between public health and economics. To even position public health and economy as opponents is in itself a reflection of how entrenched Capitalism has become in the soul of nations.
Now, pandemics don’t happen all the time, but when they do hit us, they bring a significant threat to human health, on a larger scale. This particular pandemic has taken many lives within a very short space of time. To date, there has been over 4 million infections in the world and just over 300 thousand lives have been lost. We have seen the global epicentres shift from Asia to Europe and now in North America. This surely should leave other continents like Africa not only with epidemiological advantage and insight concerning the character of this virus, but also with a clear knowledge of what not to do. The city of New York has been hit hard by this virus, and the victims have mostly been the vulnerable minorities – the elderly and those who had underlying health issues (comorbidities).
Thus, the current debate on the lockdown needs to be clarified and properly framed for the conversation to help us arrive at a rational and publicly beneficial conclusion. The following considerations are important:
There can be no argument against any effort to preserve life.
We are no longer in a fixed level 5 type lockdown; we are now in a process of a steady and cautious relaxation of restrictions back to normal life – a process the government refers to as a risk adjusted strategy. President Ramaphosa indicated on Wednesday evening that in the month of June, we are moving to level 3, provided the spread of infections allow us to do so. Therefore, the issue under question cannot be the lockdown itself, but the pace of movement back to normal life. We are basically arguing about whether we should be driving “back home” at 60km or 120km per hour. The opposite end of the argument has to do with the need to see a speedy and perhaps even an abrupt relaxation of lockdown restrictions, no matter what the public health consequences may be. Like in any argument, you will of course find middle positions.
We have evidence before us to suggest that the government is in the process of relaxing the restrictions. It may not be at a pace that we would like it to be, but there is movement towards a direction we all want to see.
We must consider what is the justifiable pace that allows us to open the economy without causing massive public health risk.
The government has injected billions of rands into the economy, to compensate for the economic gap created by the lockdown. This meets the Keynesian economic principle, of the need for a government to pump money into the economy through fiscal means, mechanisms and processes, in order to preserve and stimulate the economy.
Our lockdown began on the 26th of March. It has been in place for less than 2 months. And it will surely not be a permanent reality.
If we consider other nations: China imposed the lockdown in Wuhan towards end of January, and only started to relax restrictions end of March / beginning of April. Italy activated the lockdown process end of February, they are only now starting to relax restrictions. It therefore seems that you are looking at a baseline of 2 months before you can consider relaxing lockdown restrictions.
The leadership approach in a pandemic should be to proactively save lives. We do not have to encounter a massive outbreak first, in order to justify a lockdown. Leadership must be powered by foresight and imagination that is inspired by intuitive knowledge of the nation that this government is leading. That is, you cannot implement policies that would work well elsewhere, in South Africa. The policies of the government must be applicable to the nation of South Africa, in 2020.
We must consider the opportunity cost principle – and that is, what are we prepared to lose, in order to preserve life? Equally, the balance of scales principle is important to consider – when economics and public life are put on the scale, in a pandemic situation, the scale should tip in favour of public life.
Unpacking the Debate
In a situation where you are faced with a serious public health risk, the debate for a speedy return to the economy is not only a reflection of the hegemon of Capital, but it also reflects the voice of the class making the noise – it can only be those who have in fact been active in the economy, prior to the pandemic. If you have not been active in the economy prior to the pandemic, you have no economy to return to. Thus, there is a class dynamic to this argument. And so those leading the protest against the government, must not only be clear in terms of the constituency for whom they speak, but they must also make a clear and a convincing proposition on what should happen to the economically inactive population, that faces serious public health risk, with no economy to return to, and with no personal means or resources to retreat back to, in case of an outbreak. Equally, the argument for a speedy return to the economy does not incorporate the voice of the “missing middle” in this pandemic conundrum – those who are laborers within the system, who understand the need to return to the economy but who are also equally fearful of being infected by this disease. These constitute the face of the economy. They are in the front-lines of economic activity and so face a higher risk of being infected. Unlike corporate executives and owners of capital, who would have space and means to observe social distancing, and who have the privilege of working from home etc., this group is torn between the need to save their lives on the one hand, and the need to save their livelihoods on the other. They know that they work in spaces of continuous and close human contact. Basically, the economy does not return back to life without the front-line laborers going to the fields. To go to the fields is to move back into the reality of human contact. And then you must consider the statistics in terms of the percentage and social profile of those front-line laborers in our nation. Now this is the vantage point from which we must approach this debate.
In their state of inner tension and confusion, this missing middle does require a trustworthy political voice and leadership that will not only represent their interests in corridors of power, but that will also help lead and guide them on what to do.
It is perhaps easy to talk about a speedy return to the economy, when you have a house to return back to, in case of an outbreak. It is easy to talk about a speedy return to the economy, when you can drive to work in your private car, without having to use crowded public transport. It is easy to talk about a speedy return to life, when you can drive your children to school. And when we talk about “economic loss”, we have to be asking the question, “whose loss?”
Equally, economic modelling in the debate of the lockdown must consider not only economic loss caused by the lockdown but also the potential economic loss that can be caused by the outbreak of the virus. That is, the lockdown is not only about saving lives, it is also about lessening the economic burden of the pandemic.
Others argue for a speedy return to life so that we may build public or herd immunity. Well, the one who suggests this does so because they believe they have a good chance of survival. If we consider this from the vantage point of the sickly, the poor and the elderly, we would not even begin to make such a proposal. No one makes a proposal for an abrupt return to life in order to quickly build public immunity, when they know that they don’t have a good chance of survival, to enjoy life after the pandemic. In other words, this policy approach is great, but perhaps not for the South African reality.
No matter how you look at it, this is a class debate, a push between the strong and the weak…
Ezek 34:20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken. NIV
The economic debate against the lockdown is not simply that the poor will become poorer, it is that capital lies dormant, it is accumulating dust, leaving the capitalist with a burden to service it when there is no profit coming in. This is understandably difficult, exceedingly difficult! But when this is considered against the need to preserve life, it fails the test of rationality. On the other hand, in times of the pandemic, it is not economics that saves lives, it is containment measures and the public health care system. Through the lockdown and the process of gradual relaxation, the public and especially the vulnerable, are given a temporary place of safety from the invading virus.
The solution to the shoving among the citizens is a shepherd – a leadership that has intimate and intuitive understanding of all sides of society, especially the vulnerable…
Ezek 34:23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken. NIV
The president has thus far played the role of being that shepherd. He has equally acknowledged the mistakes and weak areas of the government – and mistakes must be fixed. But there is no doubt that we’ve seen the process of shepherding of the nation, and a deep sense of care for life. Nations that will survive this pandemic are those that prioritize life above all things. This is what the Bible refers to as “sheep” versus “goat” nations (Matt. 25:31-46).
South Aftrica’s timing: Whats’ before us?
We have the following conditions that make for the perfect storm in case of an outbreak…
Spatial design that does not allow for social distancing (townships and shacks).
A crowded public transport system.
A significant portion of our population with underlying health issues (comorbidities).
Poor and immobile villagers who do not have immediate access to public health care system.
Households with elderly people who are breadwinners to orphans.
Crowded public schools.
An overwhelmed public health care system.
In case of an outbreak, the following will happen…
Those with resources will return back to their homes for protection, if they are infected, they will get best available help faster.
Those without proper housing will be left stranded.
Those without immediate access to public health care system will be left vulnerable.
The government will be left with the public health care burden.
Instead of making a case for economics against the lockdown, we will then need to think about the economic bill of the outbreak.
Communities will be left with severe psychological and cultural trauma associated with pandemic related public health protocols.
Simply put, this would be a disaster!
Given this reality, if I have need and means to take the government to court, I would rather do so as a way of ensuring that the government is well prepared to take care of the elderly, the poor, those with pre-existing health issues etc. in case of an outbreak. In a situation like this, I would opt to make noise on behalf of the vulnerable.
The need for a trans-political leadership collective
The government has played its role in trying to protect the public, not without mistakes. Beyond our President, what we now need is a leadership collective that will help engage the communities on the ground. We need leaders of communities, faith-based organizations etc. to amplify the voice of the government, driven by the conviction that the current processes are informed by the need to save lives. Beyond a leader, you always will need a leadership collective. There are two stories in the Bible to consider in this context…
Moses and the 12 spies
Moses was a great prophet and a revolutionary leader who led Israel out of bondage. When Moses reached the Promised Land, he sent twelve spies to spy the land and to bring back the report.
Num 13:26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.” 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. NIV
Moses was let down by his own leadership collective. They spread a bad report among the people, causing a counter-revolution in the camp. This is the danger of having splinter voices in society. This is the danger of allowing our frustrations to overtake us, and of moving our eyes from the public vision and objective. When they spread a bad report, leaders affect and shape and or frame the public debate incorrectly in the minds of the people. In the end, lives get destroyed and the national destiny gets lost.
Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites
There is a good example in the Bible that shows us what happens when the leadership collective works together towards a common vision…
Neh 8:1 all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel. 5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 7 The Levites-Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah — instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. 11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.” 12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. NIV
The Book of Nehemiah is a case study of Community Building and Public Leadership. In this story we see Ezra reading the law for the people, with the support of the Levites, who went down and engaged with the people, explaining for them the meaning of what was being read. In our case, there has been a lot of information that we’ve had to process. As we engage a gradual relaxation of the lockdown, we will need leaders on the ground to explain the meaning and objectives of the lockdown relaxation process to the people. While the need to see the president on our TV screens will remain (just as Ezra stood on a high wooden platform for all to see him), this will have to be combined with a community-based leadership process. Without this, we run a risk of community outbreaks.
The duty of the government is to establish public wellbeing. It is to be the agent of justice, ensuring that the muted voice of the vulnerable is heard (Rom. 13:1-5).
The lockdown relaxation process is underway, perhaps not at a pace that some of us may prefer. We shall eventually have to face this virus and build public immunity. However, given the conditions and socio-economic profile of our nation, there is a strong case for a steady, gradual and cautious adjustment of lockdown restrictions.
We who are engaged in this debate need to clarify our own vantage point, without which we lose the opportunity to provide effective leadership in society – now and in the future. The pressing issue in this debate is not in the details of the lockdown relaxation process, it’s one of the vantage point from which the debate is engaged. The conclusion of the matter in this debate will directly be determined by the point and angle from which we start it.
Pastor – LivingStones Agency
Visionary Leader – Kingdom Humanity Fellowship
Please follow the links below to access other resources relevant to the current pandemic…
Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. NIV
In part 1 of the Doctrine of Suffering, we looked at some biblical definitions and principles around this topic. The motivation behind this reflection on suffering is twofold: 1) suffering is an important principle of Christ and of the faith, 2) we live in uncertain and challenging times in which we must not only affirm our faith but where we must also understand the principles by which we can lead a victorious life, as we walk through this personal, local and global disaster. We noted in the first article that suffering must not be confused with “false humility and a self-induced harsh treatment of the body for religious reasons” (Col. 2:23), or put differently, a self-induced difficulty or crisis, in an effort to “please God”. In its basic definitions, suffering is the determination to live for Christ in the midst of adversity; the resolution to advance the Kingdom of God even when it is costly to do so; the attitude to deny yourself in pursuit of the Will of God. The principle of suffering does not describe mere pain or a position of powerlessness, on the side of the believer. This principle recognizes that the flesh, evil forces and the world system are inherently and structurally opposed to the life of the Kingdom of God, that the believer must walk through cycles of joy and pain, and that the journey to the end of time involves natural disasters. Acknowledging this reality empowers the believer to expect opposition and difficulty in the journey of salvation, and to decide beforehand, to always choose the Will of God. It is only in this context of obedience to the Will of God, that the conversation of suffering becomes relevant. Biblically, we understand the Will of God to be both life missions God may want us to engage in and a Way of Life that He wants us to adopt and express, daily. In this sense, the Will of God is not only “an occasional thing”, it is also a daily, ongoing reality. Jesus tells us “to take our Cross daily” (Luke 9:23). It is as a result of these two dimensions of the Will of God, that we encounter hostility, adversity and suffering. Sometimes we can have an imbalanced or limited view of the Will of God as something that relates to occasional life missions, and not to a Way of Life we are called to lead daily. In this regard, Peter speaks about “suffering for doing what is right” (1 Pet. 2:20, 1 Pet. 3:14&17). Peter is talking about suffering as a result of a Way of Life. Ultimately, love surpasses ministry – “where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away… and now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:8-13). “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal…” (1 Cor. 13:1-3). 1 Corinthians ch. 13 reminds us, that it is easy to excel in the Will of God as it concerns to life missions, and to find ourselves stumbling in the Will of God, as it concerns to God’s Way of Life. This scripture further exhorts us, to carry the two dimensions of the Will of God, in proper balance – love will always outweigh ministry (love is eternal, and ministry is temporary), and love must be the motivation of all ministry.
The bible clearly teaches us that in the faith, we are like solders in the battlefield, that the life of salvation is one of warfare and wrestling…
Phil 1:27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing side by side, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it. NLT
When we embrace the Word of the Lord in our lives, it triggers suffering…
Matt 13:20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. NIV
We are wrestling against our own flesh
Gal 5:16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. NIV
1 Peter 2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. NIV
The verses above give a picture of structural conflict between the spirit and the flesh. The word “contrary” used by Paul in Galatians 5 vs. 17 means to be placed against each other, to be adversaries or opponents. The word “war” used by Peter in 1 Peter 2 vs. 11 means to wage war, to serve in a military campaign, to lead an army. The picture that we get in both these verses is that there is active war between the spirit and the flesh. This war is resolved by our intentional obedience to the leadership of the Holy Spirit – “but if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law”.
We are wrestling against the world system
John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” NIV
John 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. NIV
1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. NKJV
1 John 5:4 For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. NIV
The scriptures above give a clear indication of the hostility that exists between the people of the Kingdom of God and the world. Since the world hated Christ, it will hate us also. The word “world” used in John 15 vs. 18 is the word “kosmos”, which means orderly arrangement. This word refers to the surrounding culture, arrangement and way of doing life. In context, Jesus is referring to the order of human life corrupted by sin and or established by fallen humans (Rom. 5:12). The nature and structure of such an order does not incorporate God and His commands. It is built out of the lawlessness of man and against the command of God. According to 1 John 2 vs. 16, this world order reflects three principles of sin and of the Fall: A) The lust of the flesh – this reflects the supremacy of human feelings and self-will against the command of God of ; B) the lust of eyes – this reflects the supremacy of human perspective, desires and pleasure against the command of God; C) the pride of life – this reflects the imperative of self-life and human prosperity over the command of God. Everything that is built according to the principles of the world, whether family, church, economics, politics etc. will always reflect these three components, and can therefore be described as worldly. If it is worldly, it will always be hostile to the Kingdom of God – because the world hates Christ!
The word “hate” used by Jesus in John 15 vs. 18 means to detest and abhor, to not show love and embrace. Such is the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the world. Jesus also says that in this world, we shall have trouble. The word “trouble” means pressure, anguish, affliction, tribulation and distress. There is structural conflict between the world and the Kingdom of God. This conflict will always have impact on the journey of the believer. However, the believer (and the church) is called not to be worldly, in order to be loved by the world, but to have faith that overcomes the hostility of the world.
We are wrestling against evil spiritual forces
Eph. 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. NIV
We must put on the full armor of God – components of the life of salvation – because we are struggling and wrestling against powers of this dark world. The word “wrestle or struggle” means hand-to-hand combat, either in the context of soldiers in the battlefield or of athletes in a sport contest. The principle is based on ancient military battles which required proximity, physical contact and face-to-face combat. During these ancient military battles, a soldier would pick an opponent for a battle. And the winner would always be the one who possessed strength, skill and agility. Our warfare against evil is that personal – evil forces pick on us as individual believers, but they must always find us well prepared, wearing the full armor of God (not some components of the armor) and able to wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. In other words, we must be well trained in matters of doctrine – we must be able to apply doctrine in matters of life.
The Cross – A Symbol of Suffering
Matt 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. NIV
In Matthew ch. 16, Jesus tests His own disciple’s understanding of who He is. He asks them the question, “who do you say I am?” (Matt. 16:15). Peter answers, “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). On the basis of this conversation, and having been satisfied with the answer of His own disciples to His question, Jesus begins to talk about His suffering…
Matt 16:21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. NIV
Peter, failing to understand that Jesus is not simply “venting” and complaining about an unfortunate future but is outlining His purpose and mission, pledges his support and declares that “this shall never happen to you” (Matt. 16:22). Moreover, Peter rebukes Jesus! The word “rebuke” means to evaluate, disapprove, admonish and charge. Basically, Peter evaluates Jesus’ thinking and utterance and finds it to be inappropriate and incorrect, and he therefore seeks to reprimand and “shush” Him. Jesus responds with a counter-rebuke…
Matt 16:23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” NIV
Jesus recognizes the source of Peter’s concern to be from the devil. He then rebukes the spirit behind the statement. The phrase “stumbling block” is the word that means the trigger of a trap on which the bait is placed, and which, when touched by the animal, springs and causes it to close causing entrapment (Strong’s Dictionary). In other words, Jesus realizes “the concern” to be the attempt of the enemy to abort the mission of God. The phrase, “you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” reflects the conflict that exists between self-will or humanism and God’s Will.
The Process of Peter: “This shall never happen to you”
The statement, “this shall never to happen to you” shows us that what Jesus has just said is beyond Peter’s theology, worldview and mindset. Peter cannot reconcile God and pain. He cannot reconcile God and suffering. The Peter, who later would write, “to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21), still needed to have His doctrine refined and improved. Peter represents our journey. We too cannot reconcile God and pain. We “judge” God on the basis of the five senses of our flesh, and of our basic human need – which is human wellbeing and prosperity. But this is not how the Kingdom of God is structured. The basic need of life in the Kingdom of God is to obey God. On the basis of obedience, we are guaranteed human wellbeing and prosperity (Matt. 6:25-34, especially vs. 33), but in disobedience, we are guaranteed death – for the wages of sin is death.
After resolving Peter’s issue, Jesus then makes the statement to His disciples…
Matt 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. NIV
These words, “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”, must have fallen into the hearts of the disciples with weight. We can imagine Jesus speaking to the disciples, but with a sharp and an intent look at Peter, who would become a significant apostle a couple of years later. Jesus was basically saying, we have nothing in common, unless you embrace the Cross. Thus, Jesus established the Cross as a symbol of suffering, long before He was crucified. These words must have marked a significant crossover for Peter himself, who beyond his pledge of support to Jesus, still had to process his own fear of death (as was seen during the crucifixion). Fear! This was in fact the basic motivation that led to Peter’s stance against suffering, in the first place. Clearly, when we have basic motivations of either fear or success, this always inevitably affects and shapes our doctrine or theology. To truly walk with Jesus, we must possess the Will of God as our cardinal reference point in our dealings with life. That is, the Will of God, and not success or safety of our lives, must in fact become the basic motivation or driver of our lives.
Let’s state this again, Jesus established the Cross as a symbol of suffering, long before He was crucified. That is, the symbolism of suffering in the Cross, was not determined by the Romans, but by Jesus, long before the drama and shenanigans of the Pharisees and the Romans came to a climax. It is upon this foundational reality that we should embrace the Cross as a living spiritual principle in our hearts. The Cross is neither a symbol of jewelry nor a religious element – it is a living principle in our hearts. It is a symbol of spiritual determination in the heart of the disciple, to walk through the valley of crucifixion in this world, joyfully taking on “the 39 stripes and the insults”.
Developing Spiritual Psychology to engage Suffering
Spiritual Psychology refers to the attitude of the mind and a frame of thinking that originates in the knowledge of truth in Christ. Spiritual Psychology is the fruit of spiritual formation of our humanity in Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). It defines an identity, mentality and emotional outlook that is anchored in the truth of life in Christ. It is a product of applied knowledge in the process of human thought. Of significance to Spiritual Psychology is the substitution of the right to life with the duty to obey (God).
Luke 22:41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” NIV
Jesus is the second human and the last Adam, in the order of creation. He came to show us how to be human, so that we would follow in His example (1 Cor. 15:45-49, 1 Cor. 11:1).
1 Cor 15:47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. NKJV
The word “man” used in the phrase, “the second man”, is the word “anthropos” from which we get the English word “anthropology”. This word (man) deals with the nature of humanity. Jesus is not just the second man; He is not just a “distant-historical Saviour, but He actually represents a model of humanity that we must adopt, as His disciples (1 Cor. 15:49).
1 Cor 15:49 And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. NKJV
We must bear the image of the heavenly man (or a heavenly humanity). The word “borne” (or bear) means to wear as clothing. We must put on the clothing of the image of Christ (Eph. 4:22-24). The word “image” is the Greek word eikon (or the English word “icon”) which defines a profile of something, a resemblance and a copy. The word eikon implies the existence of a prototype – it defines both a copy and a prototype after which a copy is made or developed. Jesus Christ is the prototype of our humanity, after Him we must establish a Kingdom Humanity here on earth that is a resemblance of His Nature. We must establish a Community of People who do not only identify with the humanity of Jesus Christ but who also take after its form (2 Cor. 3:18).
Eph 4:22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man (the old humanity) which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man (the new humanity) which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. NKJV
Through the Cross, we get to see beyond the veil as we interact with the kind of humanity that heaven is calling us towards…
Phil 2:5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… NKJV
Luke 22:41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” NIV
In the Scriptures, we are advised against standing from a distance to “receive grace” and then walk away, wiping our mouths in “selfish thankfulness”. Rather, we are invited to come close into the same experience of the Cross, in full identification with the crucified Christ, to carry our own Cross and resemble the same attitude as His in our process of life. We must conform to the death of Jesus, so that we may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:10&11).
What is the point of all this?
There is a psychology that is displayed by Jesus during the crucifixion, that reflects the kind of humanity and psychology we must reflect in our own life experiences, even during this time of a global disaster. This psychology is reflected in the following words…
Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” NIV
The words, “not my will, but yours be done” reflect the basic structure of the psychology of Jesus – it was one of substitution of the right to life with the duty to obey. During our Fall in Genesis, we reflected the exact opposite…
Gen 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. NIV
The principle of the Fall and of sin is one that emphasizes our sense of right to life – that which is “good for food, pleasing to the eye and desirable for gaining wisdom”. In other words, fundamental to the Fall are the three principles of, 1) the right to human wellbeing (good for food), 2) the right to pleasure and self-desires (pleasing to the eye), 3) and the right to success and prominence (desirable for gaining wisdom). Note that there is nothing wrong with these things, it only becomes a problem when we hold them as fundamental rights even when they are conflicted with the Will of God. Thus, the basic block and the first step to a successful kingdom life, is one in which we have clarified and resolved in our hearts the tension between the right to life and the duty to obey.
The right to life was given in the context of the duty to obey
Gen 2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” NIV
The first freedom that was ever declared to the human being was placed within a broader context of the duty to obey God. “The Lord God commanded the man…you are free” – i.e. in the command of God, we found our freedom.
Gen 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'” 4 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” NIV
If the first temptation of the human by the devil carries any fundamental clues in understanding the way Darkness operates, then we have to realize that this involves both the (a) twisting and manipulation of what God has said (doctrine), (b) and the placement of a human’s sense of right to life, in conflict with the Will of God. This is what Jesus had to overcome through the Cross. He therefore demonstrates for us that the lineage of the Second Man and Last Adam (or of Kingdom Humanity) is one through which we reverse the order of sin, and where we don’t only place the duty to obey as the first block of life, but also as a fundamental necessity to human wellbeing. There can be no peace where there is violation of the order of God. Kingdom Humanity (which is structurally unlike the humanity of the world) is built on the fundamental principle of obedience – the duty to obey God. This duty to obey God is born out of our love for Him; it is the fruit of our spiritual affection and devotion, it is not coerced.
John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. NIV
John 15:10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. NIV
It is because of our love for God that we obey His commands. Unlike in “religion”, where we obey out of humanistic fear, in true kingdom life, we obey out of love and a holy fear of the Lord, because we know that His commands release the true potential of our humanity. Not only so, when we walk in obedience, we experience a divine exchange – as we show God our love, He also keeps us in His love. In the process, we experience the full and complete joy of the Lord.
The Duty to Obey: The Foundation of Psychological Strength in Suffering
Ps. 119:46 I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame, 47 for I delight in your commands because I love them. 48 I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and I meditate on your decrees. NIV
Ps. 119:126 It is time for you to act, O Lord; your law is being broken. 127 Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold, 128 and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path. NIV
Prov 6:20 My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. 21 Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. 22 When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. 23 For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life, 24 keeping you from the immoral woman, from the smooth tongue of the wayward wife. NIV
Deut. 5:32 So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. 33 Walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess. NIV
Matt 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” NIV
Obedience is both the basic human need and the highest form of human consciousness. On the other hand, self-life is the lowest form of human consciousness – this is what temptation brought us into. Obedience gives us a sense that our lives are the outworking of a command from a higher authority – a command which comes from God through human conscience. When humans respond to this reality, rather than their physiological needs, they realize their true potential. Even outside of spirituality, when humans are committed to something deeper and higher than their “stomachs” (some may call this “conscience” or “ideology”), they realize their true potential, and they also unleash destinies for themselves and their generation. In other words, this is the generic principle of life. When obedience is understood outside of “religion” but as a life principle, it unleashes a sense of purpose and meaning, which in turn unlocks true and godly humanity. Humans are most dangerous and evil when they are motivated by self-will, fear and indulgence. This is how Paul put it, “for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Paul equally spoke against those (within the ranks of the church) whom he called “the enemies of the Cross of Christ, whose destiny is destruction, whose god is their stomach, and whose glory is in their shame” (Phil. 3:18&19).
The true potential of our humanity in God (or of Kingdom Humanity) is realized not when we walk in self-will, but when we walk in obedience to God. And obedience to God reflects our affection and devotion to Him. The reason why suffering can produce maturity and a harvest of righteousness in us (provided it is administered correctly – see Rom. 5:1-5, Heb. 12:4-11) is because it resolves the conflict between the right to life and the duty to obey, and it crystallizes and distills our sense of love for God. This is because we realize that without Him, we can’t even dream of “a right to life”. Any branch that is cut off from Him will wither, it cannot produce life (John 15:1-17). Jesus therefore went to the Cross with full understanding that if He obeyed God, He could not lose life – not even the grave could keep Him. Those who walk in obedience will produce life even during difficulty and adversity. Obedience keeps us in union with God – and in God, nothing dies. Death is not the fruit of mortality; it is the fruit of being separated from God. Like Daniel and his friends, those who walk in obedience, even though they may be living out of a lean diet, will always look healthier and well-nourished than those who indulge in the pleasures of self-life (Dan. 1:8-16).
Rom 8:31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. NIV
To do justice to this scripture, we must pause and re-read it to understand what Paul is dealing with. The answer to the question, “who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” in verse 35, is implied in the things listed afterwards, i.e. trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword. Paul continues to say, “in all these things (mentioned above) we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (vs.37). “These things” are the troubles, hardships, persecution etc. In other words, it is our own attachment of greater value to “these things” (our sense of right to life or the right of not going through hardship, as an example), that can separate us from the love of God. But if we can continuously live as “more than conquerors”, implying our continuous victory over hardship, persecution etc. (i.e. our sense of duty to obey God even in suffering), due to our commitment to God over our lives, then we will be guaranteed that we shall live in perpetual union with Him. What “these things” come to test is not our threshold of pain, it is our affection and devotion for Christ. There was nothing that was going to come between the Son and the Father. The Son’s love of the Father would stand, even during the most feared or gruesome death during the Roman Empire.
The foundation of Spiritual Psychology is a correct internal structure of priority between the duty to obey and the right to life. When the duty to obey comes before the right to life, then life in God is guaranteed. But equally, we humans must be careful of “a sense of duty to obey” that is born or founded upon the pride of life and a deep-seated desire to build a name for ourselves. This too is a dangerous presumption that leads to death. This sense of duty to obey must be carried in the human heart with a deep sense of sincerity and humility, tempered and measured by the Holy Spirit, tested in the process of time and administrated in the right spiritual temperature of healthy fellowship.
The foundation of Spiritual Psychology is a correct internal structure of priority between the duty to obey and the right to life. When the duty to obey comes before the right to life, then perpetual union with God will be the result, and victory in suffering will be guaranteed.
Pastor – LivingStones Agency (www.livingstonesagency.com)
Matt 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. NIV
Phil 3:10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. NIV
Phil 1:29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him. NIV
Matt 24:21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now — and never to be equaled again. 22 If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. NIV
Rev 13:9 He who has an ear, let him hear. 10 If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints. NIV
I’ve had this impression from the Lord to write on the issue of the doctrine of suffering. This doctrine is an important principle of the faith that empowers us (believers) to face difficulty, crisis and adversity. There is no doubt that we live in times of uncertainty and human suffering, due to the current pandemic and other human crises. In terms of the spread of the pandemic, if you find yourself in a country where the infection rate is low, you have to be thinking about what the next couple of weeks and months will look like. If you are in one of the global epicenters, then you are in close proximity to human suffering – you’ve seen people getting infected (if you are not infected yourself), being taken to hospitals, and maybe even dying.
Whenever humans find themselves in difficult conditions and uncertain times, they begin to think deeply about the meaning of life – this is natural. For those of us who are in the faith, and who have accepted salvation by grace in Christ, we begin to have deeper questions about (a) our faith, (b) our doctrine (c) and the response of God in all of this. There are two realities that exist in tension and that a believer must hold in proper spiritual balance: the first reality is that we surely live in times of crisis and uncertainty. The second, and even more important reality is that we believe in God who is unchanging, in whom we have eternal certainty and who is in the process of establishing His Purposes in the earth.
The utility of Faith and Doctrine
Any faith and doctrine that we embrace must do the following:
It must speak into the full spectrum of the human experience – it must help us engage the full cycle of life. King Solomon says that “there is time for everything under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1). We are not always laughing, sometimes we are weeping; we are not always dancing, sometimes we are mourning; we are not always at peace, sometimes we are at war (Eccl. 3:2-8).
Our Faith and Doctrine must speak into diverse, global and universal conditions of humanity – this is what I refer to as the universality of truth. Our faith and doctrine must address our personal and local conditions, while at the same time speaking into conditions that humans in other parts of the world maybe going through. If we live in prosperity, we must still have a revelation of God who is not only a Provider but also a Comforter. If we have good health, we must still possess a revelation of God who is the Healer. And if we live in just and peaceable environments, we must still embrace the revelation of God as a Deliverer.
Our Faith and Doctrine must be in tune with the process of God’s salvation plan – we are not saved only to have “good life” here in this fallen order of humanity. We are saved to be restored back to our original state of immortal humanity. This presupposes the unraveling of the present order as we celebrate the restoration of the order of life we lost at the Fall in Genesis 3 – “the present heavens and the earth shall be destroyed” (2 Pet. 3:7). That is, the believer must have faith to hold the principles of establishment of new creation and destruction of old creation in proper balance in his heart. Furthermore, this presupposes that in our journey of salvation, we have already embraced the reality of crisis in our movement to the end of time.
The Universality and Contextuality of Christ
Eph 4:7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” 9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.). NIV
Rom 10:6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: NIV
Christ has “ascended on high”, and He has also “descended to the lower earthly regions”. He has filled the entire universe. The word “universe” in Ephesians 4:10 is the word “all things” – it literally means the whole or totality. There is not a single human experience or condition that is not catered for through the Cross. It is because of this very reality that we cannot think of salvation as a one-dimensional experience only applicable for certain conditions or people-groups. Christ did not only ascend on high, He also descended to lower regions, vice versa. He is therefore near us, in all our conditions, situations and seasons.
Even more importantly, is that those who administer doctrine, who hold the image of Christ before people, must do so in a manner that is holistic, balanced and complete. They must speak to the local and immediate conditions as they do to the global and universal human conditions. For this reason, a believer is not only called to be consumed by his own conditions, but he must also be able to live in the aggregated human experience.
Rom. 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. NIV
2 Cor 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. NIV
In Romans 12:15, we must rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. That is, beyond our own personal experiences (good or bad), we must find identification in the totality or aggregated experience of humanity. Our revelation of God must not begin and end with our personal-local experiences but must extend and connect to the total experience of humanity. Since we have been comforted by God in all our troubles, we can comfort others in any trouble. Our experience of God in our personal conditions is enough to empower us to extend the ministry of God to any kind of condition that humanity finds itself in, even those that we have not yet gone through ourselves.
The Cross – identification with the totality of the human experience
The fundamental experience of the Cross is that He who had no sin died for us who were sinners, so that together with Him, we might get to live in glory. Thus, the Cross is fundamentally not selfish but connects itself to the totality of what humanity is going through. Think about it – Jesus lived in heavenly glory. From the point of view of heaven, life was great. However, this was not the case for humans in the earth. God’s judgment stood against the sin of humans. There was chaos, disaster, disease and death here on earth. From an earthly perspective, things were simply not great. The necessity of Christ’s suffering on the Cross was not due to heaven’s glory, it was due to earth’s chaos. That is, there are things that we will not even begin to do until we have a perspective beyond our immediate environments. It is therefore important that church is free from the limitation of her immediate experience and homogeneous worldview – her church buildings, programs, apostolic associations etc., to see humanity from a different vantage point.
Matt 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. NIV
In this important statement by Jesus, there is an outlining of a process and a sequential flow to becoming an effective disciple: 1) deny yourself, 2) take up your Cross, 3) and follow. This means that effective following takes place upon the foundations of self-denial and full identification with the crucifixion. In this sense, the words of Paul make sense…
Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. NIV
Gal 6:4 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. NIV
Not only are we the recipients of the benefits of the Cross, but we are also called to be participants in the process, together with Jesus. That is, Jesus re-lives the full cycle of death and resurrection through our lives. And so therefore, you can never be a disciple of Christ without equally embracing the full cycle of the life of Christ – of death and resurrection. For this reason, the words of apostle Paul remain powerful for us: Phil 3:10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. NIV
Faith for breakthrough vs. Faith for endurance
It is perhaps true that in the church, we tend to talk of faith mainly in the context of breakthrough and material wellbeing. Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with believing God for breakthrough, miracles and success. The Bible actually encourages us to ask so that we can be given. We must have powerful faith in the God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us (Eph. 3:20). The God who feeds the birds of the air with abundant resource, and who dresses the lilies of the field with beauty, has our lives and needs covered (Matt. 6:25-34). He is so intimately involved in our lives that He’s got the very hairs of our head numbered (Luke. 12:7) – He knows our prayer needs better than we do (Matt. 6:8). So the issue is not in believing God for breakthroughs in our lives, the problem is when we have a one-sided view of faith. Not only is this dangerous for our own salvation journey, in that sometimes we walk through experiences where we feel like God is absent or does not care about us, but this can also taint and damage our view of God – our doctrine of the Nature of God. In other words, it is beneficial for us, to hold a balanced and complete view of the doctrine of faith, as taught in the Scriptures.
2 Cor 12:7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. NIV
It is true that sometimes God responds to our prayers not by removing the challenges before us but by pouring more grace for us to face them. This is what happened to Jesus…
Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. NIV
There was no way for Jesus to pray for a “breakthrough” against the crucifixion. He needed to go through it, for the salvation of mankind. He understood this. So, heaven’s response to His prayer was not to remove the situation, rather, heaven strengthened Jesus, as the ordained participant in the situation.
Matt 26:53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” NIV
Jesus acknowledged that He could pray for God to deliver Him from the situation. However, His next statement is quite profound: “how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”. The critical question that this statement reflects is that the higher conversation of life is the fulfillment of the Will of God. For that reason, Jesus prays in line with the Will of God. He focuses His prayers on spiritual edification than “breakthrough” in the situation. This comes about as a result of discerning God in the situation.
2 Tim 2:11 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; 13 if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. NIV
2 Tim 2:3 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. NIV
Matt 24:12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. NIV
Heb 6:15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. NKJV
Endurance is the outworking of faith. Impatience is the fruit of lack of faith. He who believes does not shrink back (Heb. 10:35-39). In Hebrews 11, faith is not described for us only as instantaneous breakthrough, but also as a process of endurance towards the fulfillment of the Promises of the Lord. We must be able to endure in the situations of life, knowing that God will ultimately redeem us. The Cross required faith for endurance. Jesus needed to walk through the crucifixion, to come to the other side of joy and glory. We must therefore be able to hold these two dimensions of faith in tension and proper spiritual balance in our hearts. They are not in conflict with each other. They are the composites of the same God. There are times when God prioritizes our discipline and endurance over breakthroughs, because this always produces a harvest of righteousness. But there are times when God prioritizes breakthrough, in order to display His redemptive power in life circumstances.
Suffering – the Meaning of the Cross
We derive our spiritual meaning and doctrine of the Cross from the crucifixion of Jesus. Basically, carrying the Cross means suffering. In context, it is suffering that is induced by humans because of their opposition and rebellion to God. The messenger of God becomes the bearer of the Cross, since he is the one sent to preach and stand for righteousness. He becomes “the victim” of man’s rebellion against God.
Matt 27:22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” 23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” NIV
Acts 2:23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. NIV
Since humans rejected God, they inevitably persecuted the Son of God. They opted to save the criminal Barabbas so that they could persecute Jesus (Luke 23:18-25). This human hostility towards the Son of God is further captured in the parables of the tenants and wedding banquet. In the parable of the tenants, it is stated: Matt 21:38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him, NIV. The same principle is reflected in the parable of the wedding banquet: Matt 22:6 The rest seized (the king’s) servants, mistreated them and killed them, NIV.
When Jesus instructs us to carry our own Cross, He is not meaning anything else but the same process of suffering that He went through. The idea is that we, who have chosen to be the messengers of righteousness, must understand how life and the world will engage us. The issue of taking the Cross must not be confused with “false humility and a self-induced harsh treatment of the body, for religious reasons” (Col. 2:23). Salvation is not received by works but by grace (Eph. 2:8&9).
Triggers, contexts and platforms of suffering in the life of the believer…
An immoral world: We live in a world that is pre-configured for self-life, rebellion against God, immorality and unrighteousness. To live for Christ in such a world or human order will inevitably result in continuous hostility and suffering. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed (1 Pet. 4:14). It is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God (1 Pet. 2:19). The same world that crucified the historical Jesus still shouts against the Christ in us, “crucify Him” (Matt. 27:22&23). And Paul acknowledges that “we are crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20).
Warfare for the soul: We are wrestling with the enemy who is seeking our precious souls (Eph. 6:12&13). Rev 2:10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life, NIV. Rev 2:13 I know where you live — where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city — where Satan lives.
Mortal bodies: Although our spirits have been redeemed, we still live in mortal bodies that suffer from decay, pain, disease and death. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16).
The discipline of the Lord: Heb 12:4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline (paideia in Greek: education, training, disciplinary correction), and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes (mastigoo in Greek: to flog and scourge, a whip) everyone he accepts as a son.” 7 Endure (to hold a position for a long time) hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. NIV
A groaning creation: We are engaged in a movement to the end of time, which involves the groaning of creation (Rom. 8:18-23). The groaning of creation speaks of disasters and crises in this world, due to creation’s aging and renewal process (Matt. 24:4-8). We have been told by the Lord, prior to these events, that there will be famines (economic hardship), wars (military crises), earthquakes (climate crises) and pestilences (pandemics like the current one), Luke 21:11 & Matt. 24:7&8. We therefore must expect these events in our movement to the end of time.
Matt 24:21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now — and never to be equaled again. 22 If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. NIV
We are comforted by the fact that the Lord considers both the severity of these situations and our ability to bear them. Just like He strengthened Jesus, He is supplying us with grace to empower us to face suffering.
It is important to emphasize that suffering must not be confused with “false humility and a self-induced harsh treatment of the body, for religious reasons” (Col. 2:23).
Suffering is the determination to live for Christ in the midst of adversity; the resolution to advance the Kingdom of God even when it is costly to do so; the attitude to deny yourself in pursuit of the Will of God.
The process of suffering reflects the following attitudes, motivations, mindset and positions:
Suffering is motivated by the love of God.
Inherent to the process of suffering is self-denial.
Suffering is the acknowledgement of the primacy and supremacy of the Will of God over self-interest.
Suffering is driven by the need to obey the Lord.
It is the understanding that life tends to be configured in opposition to the movement of the Kingdom of God.
It is motivated by the imperative to witness for Christ.
It is the embracing of the imperative of spiritual formation in Christ over material wellbeing.
And suffering is born out of the revelation of eternal glory in our union with God as something that outweighs earthly comfort, wellbeing and success.
Suffering therefore does not mean that we are “victims of life”. It is not a reflection of powerlessness, neither is it a reflection of lack of options. Rather, suffering is the hallmark of the life of a witness of Christ (Acts 1:8). It is a powerful proclamation by us, of the goodness of God amidst the oppositional forces of evil. This is because we understand that we are now called to live for Him who died for us (2 Cor. 5:15). Suffering is our bold partnership in the gospel of Jesus Christ, where like Moses, we voluntarily choose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin (Heb. 11:24-27).
Resources to Engage Suffering
The following principles are paramount in our response to suffering:
Hope and Faith
Grace for the time of need
Comfort through Community
Greater appreciation of eternity
Hope and Faith
Hope and faith work hand in hand. Faith is the substance of things hoped for (Heb. 11:1). In Hebrews 11, the generation of faith had hope beyond this material order. They were longing for a better country – a heavenly one (Heb. 11:16).
When suffering works in the heart of the believer, it produces hope…
Rom 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. NIV
And since we have hope in the heavenly country, we do not grieve like the world (1 Thes. 4:13). We grieve according to our belief, calibrated by our doctrine – our faith in the resurrection (1 Thes. 4:14).
We have faith in God’s ability to keep us in the day of trial…
Jude 1:24 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, 25 To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen. NKJV
Rev 3:10 Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. NKJV
When facing suffering, we must believe in God’s ability to keep us in the day of trial. We must believe that even though it may at times feel like He is distant, that He is in fact near us, working in our lives, and that in due time we shall see the results of His redemptive works. He is the Chief Shepherd of our souls and is working to secure our eternal union with Him. If we keep this attitude of faith in our hearts, then we will inevitably allow Him time and space to administer the affairs of our lives. This faith empowers us to cooperate with God’s divine silence because we know that silence does not mean inactivity.
Luke 22:39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. NIV
Luke 18:1 Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, 2 saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. 3 Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ 4 And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.'” 6 Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. 7 And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” NKJV
The question is, what do we do when we are in anguish? The word “anguish” in Luke 22:44 defines the trembling excitement and anxiety produced by fear or tension before a wrestling match or a fight. Primarily, this word defines a place of assembly. It defines a contest for victory in public sporting events like running, boxing or wrestling. The picture in the spirit in Luke 22 is one where the enemy engages you publicly. Jesus discerned the moment, instead of allowing it to depress Him, He began to pray. If we are persistent in prayer like the widow of Luke 18, we shall get justice.
Grace for the time of Need
The grace of God is not only unmerited favor for salvation, it is also an actual resource that is supplied from heaven for our strengthening in times of need.
Heb 4:16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. NIV
God strengthens us in the crisis…
Luke 22:43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. NIV
The grace of God will always be sufficient for the challenges before us (2 Cor. 12:8&9).
Comfort through Community
2 Cor 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. NIV
The word “comfort” means to call near, to invite, to exhort and console. This word describes both relational proximity and emotional comfort. The power of community life or fellowship in the church is the ability to produce spiritual-emotional strength in the face of suffering. Two are better than one because if one falls down, his friend can help him (Eccl. 4:9-12). The saints do not only comfort one another emotionally, but also elders or leaders of church can use doctrine to comfort the saints – in Titus 1:9, elders can exhort or comfort the saints by sound doctrine.
Greater appreciation of Eternity
2 Cor 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. NIV
The scripture gives a clear perspective of life – there is nothing that we will ever face in this earth, no matter how severe it may be, that can be compared to eternal glory. Not only are earthly troubles momentary, but they also will never outweigh our eternal reward in Christ.
Rev 2:10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. NIV
Since there is no earthly experience so painful as to make us rethink our eternal reward, we can in fact be faithful even to the point of death.
1 Cor 15:19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. NIV
Pastor – LivingStones Agency (www.livingstonesagency.com)
This article – a prophetic characterization of the current pandemic – is a continuation of part 1, which focused on giving a prophetic analysis of the global disaster. It identified a whole range of factors, characteristics and manifestations of the current pandemic, beyond the realm of global public health. The first article also provided the scriptural basis of the pandemic as a “sign and a wonder” that requires mankind to enter into a season of moral reflection and contemplation. It provided examples of how ancient civilizations – kings and nations – responded to significant events by seeking the face of the God of heaven, Jehovah, the Creator of human life. Thus, the first article was written with the following categories of people in mind: The Disciple of Christ (the Believer), the Church Leader, the Citizen and those in spheres of leadership – especially political leadership.
Part 2 is written to take the conversation further and deeper, to provide the following: (1) a doctrinal outline of some of the questions that the church is currently grappling with, (2) and a prophetic lens through which we can view this global disaster that has overtaken the world. The disaster finds us (church) marching forward towards the fulfillment of pre-established and biblically based beliefs, hopes and purposes. We therefore must seek doctrinal-prophetic meaning of the pandemic, within a broader reality of a march that began at the Cross and that shall end when we finish the purposes of God here on earth. For us, the disaster cannot be a “distraction”, it must be a moment of re-calibration.
Every human being, people-group and culture have a lens (or a worldview) through which they interpret life. For the Disciple of Christ, that lens must come from the Scriptures. This article is therefore written to place and to frame the current pandemic within the broader grand march of the Kingdom of God to the conclusion of the purposes of God. It is written not as a “Social Media nugget”, but as a resource for the Disciple (Student) of Christ and for that Church Leader who is deeply engaged in the work of advancing the Kingdom of God.
It is clear to us all by now that coronavirus is having an unprecedented impact upon the world, the kind we have not seen in modern humanity. In engaging the sense of void that characterizes the world at the moment, and a general cessation of human activity due to multiple nations being on lockdown, at the same time – e.g. the streets are empty, there is no traffic in cities, no sight of children going to school, industries and economies are on pause, stadiums are abandoned etc. – the words of Revelation ch. 18 come to mind:
Rev 18:8 Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her. 9 “When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: “‘Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!’ 11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more…17 In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’ 21 Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: “With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. 22 The music of harpists and musicians, flute players and trumpeters, will never be heard in you again. No workman of any trade will ever be found in you again. The sound of a millstone will never be heard in you again. 23 The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The voice of bridegroom and bride will never be heard in you again. Your merchants were the world’s great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray. 24 In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth.” NIV
The scripture above is a picture of life in a lockdown reality. It reflects systemic and cultural paralysis that we are seeing around us.
This cover page of the economist magazine is a graphical representation of Revelation 18 – the world is locked down and the human enterprise is on pause. The world is under siege and is fighting for survival. The offensive nature of the capitalist system has been broken as the world enters a season of survival.
The dilemma or conundrum of the pandemic is clear: it’s that you must lockdown the nation in order to minimize an outbreak in infections, to avoid overwhelming the public health care system and to therefore save lives. But in locking down the nation, you immobilize the economy. And when the economy is immobilized, human livelihood is threatened. The challenge faced by our political leaders is clear for all to see, just as is the sense of uncertainty faced by households.
The words of Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who heads the Ministerial Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Health in South Africa, further help us understand the moment upon modern humanity. Prof. Karim made the following statements during a webinar on Thursday 17th April 2020, “nothing prepared us for this…we were not ready for a virus like this…no one was ready…no country was”. Furthermore, statements like, “we are one humanity” and references to the pandemic as something that poses an “existential threat to humanity” are becoming common in media interviews and commentaries. This shows us the scope within which human thought is functioning, in relation to this pandemic – humans are having an “ultimate reflection and conversation” as they mobilize to save human life. If this is the case in the world, it must be even more of a reality within the House of God – we must be thinking about doctrinal-prophetic meaning of this moment, in the context of finalizing the purposes of God. We must begin to have an “omega conversation”.
In part 1 of this article, we noted that the magnitude and scale of this pandemic brings the natural question, “God, where are you?”. Since December 2019, there has been just over 1.9 million cases of infections and over 100 thousand deaths. These are not just statistics; these are real people and families that have been infected and affected by this pandemic. With this kind of agony, a sound of distress emerges from global humanity into the heavens, with the question, “God, where are you?’. This question can be likened to the cry of the Lord Jesus on the Cross, just before He released His last breath. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). This phrase is traced back to Ps.22, a psalm of the suffering Christ:
Ps 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. 3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. NIV
Psalm 22 gives a picture of conflict between human suffering and the sovereignty of God (the God who is enthroned in heaven). And how we humans tend to measure God’s nearness or relational proximity to us, on the basis of the conditions that surround us. Thus, Matt. 27:46 gives a picture of the humanity of Jesus, wrestling with suffering and calling on God’s nearness in a time of agony. The idea is – if God is enthroned and in charge, He surely should come quickly to bring salvation to us.
And so when we consider the question, “God, where are you?”, we must reflect on the paragraph below, taken from part 1 of this article, and which brings to light some theological and prophetic nuances that we want to explore and unpack in this article:
“Looking at the magnitude, the scale, the speed and the global impact of this pandemic, ancient kings, prophets, the righteous ones and ancient societies would have concluded that something other-worldly was happening! Clearly, at least according to the news and the statistics coming through, something is indeed moving across the nations of the earth. And if God is on the other side of the line of whatever is happening, catching up with it together with us, and trying to stop it, then He isn’t as powerful as He declares Himself to be. And since we know God the Creator of the earth, Jehovah the self-sufficient One, that He is no spectator to life events, and that nothing happens to His creation at least without it earning His divine oversight and attention, because His eyes scan the entire earth (2 Chron. 16:9, Ps. 15:3, Heb. 4:13). And that this same God is so detailed that He has numbered the very hairs of our heads (Luke 12:7), that He never sleeps nor slumbers (Ps. 121:3-5), then we have to say that (1) either this pandemic is the direct hand of God or (2) He has allowed whatever is moving in the earth, to produce the level of impact that we’re seeing on our television screens. And this further raises doctrinal and prophetic questions as we seek to calibrate the lens through which we see this Creator. That is, at the core of this conversation, is the theology of the Nature of God.”
The Question of Faith
Theology or doctrine is never meant to be an abstract thing; it’s meant to give us substance, hangers and a basis upon which we can formulate a worldview and a perspective concerning the flow and outcome of life.
Any system of belief must be able to help us process three fundamental questions of human existence – (1) where do we come from, (2) what is or should be the nature of the human condition and (3) where are going? We must not only frame these questions in the context of creation, but also in the progressive flow of human life. That is, any generation or society reflects the three principles of human existence in its social dynamics: 1) human origins (historical conditions that have shaped current expressions of society), 2) the human condition (current socio-economic realities that can be weighed against God’s righteousness) and, 3) human destiny (unfolding futures). Noah was able to see future destruction of life in a time when everybody was clearly invested in life – “in those days, people were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark” (Matt. 24:37&38).
Faith empowers us to reason, understand, see and to speak! Without faith, it is not only impossible to please God, but we are left hopeless and unable to process life and reality around us. Without faith, we fall into fear and anxiety. However, faith is not simply positive thinking or the exertion of human soul and will – faith must be founded on a sure foundation of the (a) promise of the Lord and (b) the revelation of His Nature. If we know that when the dust settles, God will be standing right next to us, then we have full assurance and confidence to walk through the valley of this pandemic, without fear. Faith is important, for the following reasons…
Faith empowers us to reason
Heb 11:17-19 By faith… Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. NIV
The word “reason” means to make an estimation, to put together with one’s mind, to take an inventory, to think, reason and conclude, to do calculations or accounting. Basically, this word means to reconcile realities before you on the basis of the Nature and Promise of God to you. In this case, Abraham had to reconcile three things: the first thing was the promise he had received from the Lord about having a baby boy (the son, Isaac), the second thing was that it was through the same son (Isaac) that Abraham would become the father of many nations, and the third thing was the instruction to sacrifice the son. Abraham reconciled these three things on the basis of the nature and promise of the Lord (that God fulfills His promise; He is not in the business of breaking promises, and yet God is to be fully obeyed), and he arrived at the conclusion that even if he sacrificed Isaac, God was going to raise him (Isaac) from the dead, since there were some outstanding things that had to be fulfilled, through Isaac. Abraham therefore understood that the command to sacrifice his son was not about taking Isaac’s life, rather, it was a test of obedience, on the part of Abraham.
We cannot reason out realities before us without a proper knowledge of God – and so therefore the theology and doctrine of the Nature of God is fundamental to the church’s ability to engage in prophetic analysis and figure out what exactly is the Lord doing at this time, amidst this pandemic.
Faith empowers us to understand
Heb 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. NIV
The word “understand” means to consider, to exercise the mind, to comprehend, to perceive with thought coming into consciousness or to formulate new thinking capacity. Faith empowers us to understand the formation and outcome of new human realities. Hebrews 11:3 is not dealing with personal faith; it’s dealing with faith in relation to big macro developments of life. At the core of this is the understanding that “what is seen comes from what is invisible”. For us who believe, life does not begin in material realities. For us who believe, science is important but not enough to explain developments taking place on planet earth. On the contrary, we understand that human life has both spiritual origins and spiritual outcome. When we see life happening, we seek to understand the source and the cause. It is in understanding the source and the cause that we determine appropriate action. That is, in any given situation, how do we know whether to engage in prayers of intercession or warfare? How do we know whether to rebuke or affirm? How do we know how we pitch our prophetic proclamation in the earth, amidst disasters and pandemics?
There was once a powerful young king in Israel – king Josiah. He did a whole lot of great things in reforming the nation and in re-establishing the law of God. However, the story of his death in 2 Chronicles 35 reflects lack of discernment on his part. Josiah decided to go out and fight the Egyptian king, Neco, who was marching to fight another king. King Neco’s words and warning to Josiah highlight the need for us to always understand the source of things and realities before us:
2 Chron 35:20 After all this, when Josiah had set the temple in order, Neco king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah marched out to meet him in battle. 21 But Neco sent messengers to him, saying, “What quarrel is there between you and me, O king of Judah? It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at war. God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.” 22 Josiah, however, would not turn away from him, but disguised himself to engage him in battle. He would not listen to what Neco had said at God’s command but went to fight him on the plain of Megiddo. NIV
Sadly, Josiah was killed in this battle. Josiah! The same political reformer who changed the moral fibre of the nation of Israel? Josiah chose to be regulated by presumption than faith. He was so accustomed to being on the side of God’s favour that he couldn’t comprehend that king Neco, though a gentile Egyptian king, might have been on a divine mission, sent by God Himself. Had Josiah taken time out to do the “David thing”, of seeking the face of the Lord in the matter, he would have understood the source and the cause behind king Neco’s military campaign. The story reveals the tragedy of not taking time to discern and understand the source and origination of human events and realities. The Body of Christ simply cannot afford to do the “Josiah thing” as this pandemic plays out.
Faith empowers us to see
Heb 11:13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. NIV
Faith is inherently prophetic. It comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). It is often triggered by the revelation of the Nature and Promise of the Lord (Heb. 6:13-15). It is geared towards a hope in God (Heb 11:1) – in other words, it is forward looking and futuristic. It never looks backwards.
The word “see” used in Heb. 11:13 means to see with perception. Faith is not simply about the preservation of current conditions of human life. Faith is about seeing or being insightful about new conditions arriving in the earth. The people of faith did not only see, they also welcomed these things. The word “welcome” means to enfold in the arms, to greet, salute, and to treat with affection.
Heb 11:14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. NIV
Sight of new conditions means that we let go of the old as we embrace “the heavenly thing” that God is doing.
Faith empowers us to speak
2 Cor 4:13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. NIV
Once we have understood the formation of new realities of life in this pandemic, and have reasoned out God’s divine outcome, then we can speak to one another as believers and to the nations of the world.
Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day. NIV
2 Cor 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. NIV
God’s response to the formlessness, emptiness and darkness of the earth was a proclamation of light – the light of the knowledge of the glory of Christ. In this season of disaster, when we are surrounded by formlessness and emptiness, we must see new realities of life being carved out of the Rock that is Christ, and we must proclaim them upon the earth. They are the only hope to mankind.
In providing the prophetic lens through which we can view the current pandemic, we must consider and appreciate the following…
Some limitations of the church: For example, some sections of the church have an underlying, subtle suspicion towards political government. This is partly caused by a particular eschatological viewpoint, and it can affect how the church relates to political authority, especially during these times.
The doctrine of the Nature of God, especially as it relates to the issue of divine judgment: there has been questions and conversations around this issue. We must go back to the scriptures to explore, examine and redeem in our minds a scriptural view of the application, purpose and redemptive nature of God’s divine judgment to man.
The doctrine of Christ: through Christ and His Cross, we see the reconciliation of two important components of the Nature of God: since the fall of man, God introduced His righteous requirements through the Old Covenant of the Law of Moses, and commanded man to perform these commands. Disobedience came with a penalty. Thus, through the Law of Moses, we see God as a righteous Judge. However, in the New Covenant, God declares that all men have sinned and fallen short of His glory, and therefore stand judged. And God takes the next step – He leaves His position of a righteous Judge and assumes the position of a convict, on behalf of humanity (Phil. 2:6-8). He comes to the earth to die for us so that we can live through Him. What we see in the story of salvation is that God is so righteous that He will not leave sin unpunished, but He is so merciful that He will pay the penalty for us. And that anybody that will still not receive the gracious gift of life still remains judged and condemned. What Christ reveals to us is the reconciliation of the two components of the Nature of God – the righteous Judge and the merciful Redeemer.
We will explore some of these topics in the near future. Moreover, to walk in the fullness of the wisdom that God has freely and graciously given to us, we must embrace the whole counsel of the scriptures – from Genesis to Revelation. The following principles around the Bible and scripture administration are helpful to consider:
“All scripture is God-breathed” – it was written out of divine inspiration of God upon man (2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Pet. 1:20&21).
The Bible reveals the Nature of God and the nature of His intervention to earthly and human conditions.
We are to embrace the entire Bible (Genesis to Revelation) as the whole counsel of God to man, there are no irrelevant books.
Old Testament books and New Testament books are not two conflicting sections of the Bible, this would make God schizophrenic. Both these sections of the Bible make up one and coherent counsel of God to man. They are both as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago.
However, we must understand God’s shift from the Old Covenant of law (not Old Testament books) to the New Covenant of grace (i.e. we must distinguish between Old Testament books and Old Covenant on the one hand, and New Testament books and New Covenant on the other hand).
We must embrace the entire Bible as the whole counsel of God to man, but we must read it from the vantage point of the New Covenant of grace.
We must remember that what may be regarded as “irrelevant Old Testament books” was in fact the Bible that Jesus read.
Moreover, it was the Old Testament Books that the early apostles, teachers and church in general relied upon and used to bring the revelation of Jesus as the Christ. That is, the early church did not frown upon Old Testament books, but they embraced and understood them to bring the revelation of Jesus Christ.
What this means is that we are not tearing, chucking or shredding some scriptural books. All we’ve had to do is to look at the same thing but from a different vantage point of the New Covenant or of Christ.
Rom 10:4 Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes (NIV). Christ reflects a shift in angles and vantage points, from law to grace.
The Bible and the principle of collective representation: The Bible is written by the ink of the Spirit of God as a book reflecting collective representation of mankind. That is, the sin of Adam is in fact the sin of mankind. Just as the righteousness of Christ does in fact open the window of redemption for all mankind.
The Bible and the principle of collective reflection: The bible is also written with the intent for collective reflection – i.e. we can never read a story about a character in the bible (good or bad) and then go on to distance ourselves from them. The Bible reveals the true nature of mankind. What this means is that we all suffer from the same things. The Bible is nothing but a collective mirror crafted by the wisdom and intelligence of Him who created us and who therefore knows us very well. When I read about Adam’s temptation to eat a forbidden fruit, I must see myself. When I read about David’s sexual lust, I must see myself etc.
When we consider the principle of collective reflection, then we can think of the Bible as nothing but a video camera zooming onto specific characters, people-groups, generations, situations, events and epochs, to reflect the wider, universal and trans-generational condition of mankind.
The human condition will never outsmart the Scriptures. There is not a single generation or human era, regardless of technological advancement, where scripture will become irrelevant in terms of providing the revelation of God, a moral compass and wisdom for human life.
What is even more powerful in the principles of collective representation and collective reflection, is that in Christ Jesus, we have not only the Messiah who goes to the Cross to die for us, but we also have a human being (the second and Last Adam, 1 Cor. 15:45-59) who comes to show us how we can be humans again, so that in celebrating the Cross, we are celebrating a portal into new humanity (Eph. 4:22-24, Eph. 2:14-16).
The Bible and the principle of universality of truth: scripture is applicable to all humans across generations, people-groups, age, gender and class groups. It is applicable to all human conditions and situations.
Scripture is written as a historical record to warn successive generations in terms of how God deals with the human condition (1 Cor. 10:6&11).
What on earth is happening? Looking at the Pandemic through the lens of Prophetic Scriptures
We began this article by reflecting on the doctrine of faith – faith empowers us to reason, to understand, to see and to proclaim. Faith empowers us with a kingdom worldview with which we process reality, situations and events of life around us. Faith does not only give us power to govern over our human affairs, it also empowers us with understanding and hope to be able to walk through difficult times. For instance, because we are a people of faith, “we are not to grieve (death) like the rest of men, who have no hope”. 1 Thess. 4:13-14.
What are some of the Scriptures and prophetic themes that provide a lens through which to look at the current global disaster and the pandemic? For the purpose of this article, we will identify two prophetic themes…
The Shaking of Nations
Heb 12:25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken — that is, created things — so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.” NIV
Hag 2:6 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” NIV
In Hebrews 12:25-29, we see the shaking of life. God acknowledges Himself as the Source of the shaking. There are two triggers of the shaking identified for us: (a) the refusal of the speaking of God or a turning away from God, (b) and the impartation of the Kingdom of God to the church.
To “shake” means to throw into a tremor, to put in commotion, to cause to vibrate and to be unstable, to cause to tremble with fear. The purpose of the shaking is clearly to reveal and expose an arrangement of human life built in opposition to the Kingdom of God. How do we know this? Because the scripture speaks about “the removal of what can be shaken… so that what cannot be shaken may remain” (vs.27). This means that we must ask ourselves the following questions: (a) what is being shaken in and through this pandemic? (b) And what is being established?
Hebrews 12 is taken from Haggai 2:6-9 – the Hebrew word translated as “shake” defines a forceful and a violent, back and forth movement of a physical body by an outside force. If we consider that the natural is a pointer to the spiritual, then beyond the scientific, medical and even political issues around this pandemic, something other-worldly is indeed blowing at the system that man has built. The story does not end there, Haggai 2:7 further reveals the true intent of the shaking – so that “the desire of all nations shall come”. The word “desire” means delight, or that which is desirable and pleasant. The purpose of the shaking is to stimulate the appetite of nations towards God and His righteousness. It is to stimulate the nations to have a new hunger for righteousness, that they may come to the house of the Lord (Isa. 2:1-4). In other words, the shaking is deeply redemptive.
The Groaning of Creation
Rom 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. NIV
Romans 8 reveals some key themes for us…
Creation was subjected to frustration (vs.20): creation was subjected or subordinated to futility, vanity and purposelessness. The Fall of man in Genesis 3 did not only affect humans, but also creation (Rom. 5:12). The Fall and sin had both human and systemic effects – they affected the creation of God.
Creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into a glorious freedom (vs.21): creation is in a state of slavery to decay. The word “decay” means destruction, corruption, deterioration, a fraying and a wasting away. Since the fall of man, creation has been wasting away and being depleted, primarily because of man’s original sin but also as a result of continued greed of man. We know that at the beginning, when man fell, God did a couple of things: He set in motion anatomical and ecological curses. We who were created as immortal humans began to suffer from death or mortality. The woman would now give birth with great pain. All of this means that something changed in our anatomy or physiology. Not only that, but the ground was cursed because of the sin of man. Sin brought an ecological curse. That process has been in motion since Genesis chapter 3.
Creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth – up to the present time (vs.22): the word “groaning” means to moan or lament jointly, to grumble from impatience, to be constricted as when squeezed or pressed by circumstances.
Since the fall of man, creation has never been in a state of joy. Creation is lamenting and complaining – it is in a state of protest against the cosmic effects of man’s sin and immorality. This lamentation of creation is likened to a woman in labour – the idea is that the lamentation is increasing in intensity, resulting in all the disasters we are seeing.
Jesus helps us by explaining the exact nature of the “labour pains”…
Matt 24:4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. NIV
Luke 21:10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. NIV
The lamentation or labour pains of creation involve earthquakes, famines (economic crises), pestilences (health crises) etc.
The image below shows a range of events and situations that were taking place as we started the year 2020. Some of these events had already been taking place in previous years. I put up this slide during our first 2020 Sunday worship meeting, on the 5th of January (not so long ago), to show our church the nature of events that were in the news as we started the year. Then, we were dealing with a serious military crisis between the USA and Iran. I showed coronavirus “as one of the things taking place” (number 5 in the image). A couple of months later, the world is under quarantine because of coronavirus. But all this is a picture of creation that is in protest because of the violation of the order of God.
Why is creation in a state of lamentation? What is the hope of creation?
The answer to the question above takes us back to the doctrine of salvation. The following components of this doctrine are paramount…
The Fall did not only affect humans, it also affected the entire system of creation – sin entered the world (Rom. 5:12).
Sin did not only affect man’s heart, but also man’s anatomy and the entire ecological system (Gen. 3).
Equally, Jesus has not only come to save humans, but to also restore the entire order of creation so that it can be reconciled with God (Col. 1:17-21).
Creation was subjected to decay at the Fall, in hope that it would one day be liberated.
Consequently, God has not saved us simply to keep us within this fallen order of life. He has saved us with the intent to restore not only our spirits, but also our bodies (anatomy) back to their original order of immortality – this will fulfil the image of God.
God’s salvation plan is working out progressively towards finality – our spirits have been redeemed and regenerated (Tit. 3:5-6, 1 Pet. 1:23), our souls are being saved (1 Pet. 1:9) and our bodies (anatomy) shall be saved (Rom. 8:23, 1 Cor. 15:35-49)
Equally, creation must reflect the nature of God (Rom. 1:20, Ps. 19:1) – creation was therefore subjected to decay for a while, so that it would eventually be liberated.
Liberation of creation is the eventual destruction of all that has been corrupted, and the establishment of a new order of life (2 Pet.3:3-15)
Creation is lamenting in hope for the fulfillment of the full plan of God’s salvation…
Rom 8:21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. NIV
Triggers of the End
The Bible teaches us that mortality shall come to an end, and that the system of immortality shall be re-established. All these things that are happening cause us to begin to think deeply about the end of all things. There are three interconnected components that are at play in the church’s movement to the end:
The groaning of Creation and the manifestation of crises and disasters (Rom. 8:18-25, Matt. 24:3-14).
The preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to all nations or people-groups (Matt. 24:14).
Growth and development of church in the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:11-16, Eph. 5:27).
The first issue: The Groaning of Creation – We have no control over the first component. The manifestation of global disasters is something that is outside of our sphere of authority. To build an eschatological mindset where we solely depend on earthly events to determine our movement to the completion of kingdom purpose leaves us powerless and ineffective. The Bible teaches us that we can speed up the day of the Lord, meaning that there are contributions that we are expected to make in the process (2 Pet. 3:11-12).
The second issue: Preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom – The second issue, which is within our means, has to do with the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom of God to all nations (Matt. 24:14). All nations must hear about the good news of the Kingdom of God. Church must engage this apostolic mission. The righteous, just and merciful God will not conclude His purposes without all people-groups getting the opportunity to hear about what He has done for them.
The third issue: Maturity in Christ – beyond the evangelistic, geographic spread of the gospel of the Kingdom of God, there must be a dimensional spread of the growth of the church in the fullness of the life of Christ. We must grow up to Him who is the head (Eph. 4:15&16). If we only grow geographically, without dimensional growth, we will become a global church that still has the stains and the wrinkles of worldliness.
These three components are interconnected. Disasters and crises have a way of opening territories, people-groups and cultures to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Crises often leave humanity in a state of fear, it creates a new longing for the meaning of life, the message of hope and the theology of immortality (especially when humans are faced with death). At the same time, disasters and crises open the church up to new conversations about God, His Kingdom and Purpose. This allows the church to reflect upon her building approaches, unleashing her to new dimensions of wisdom in building the things of God.
The Response of the Church
Heb 10:35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. 38 But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. NIV
Church must respond in faith – and faith is the courage to engage the moment.
What are the platforms of faith that church must engage at this time?
Faith is to understand (it is to have knowledge) the evolution and movement of life to the end of time: church must respond with knowledge and insight concerning the meaning of the events taking place in the earth. Church must be able to frame these events within the promises of God. Jesus went to the Cross fully knowing what was happening. He was joyful at the outcomes that the Cross was going to produce in the redemption of mankind. “For the joy set before Him, He endured the Cross, scorning its shame…” (Heb. 12:2-3).
Faith is an action-oriented response to a discerned requirement of the Lord in the crisis: all the people we are told about in Hebrews 11 did something as an act of responding to what they believed God was doing in their time. Abel offered a better sacrifice, Noah built the ark, Abraham offered his son as a sacrifice etc. In Hebrews 11, faith is spoken of as human action offered in response to discernment of the will of God in the midst of life situations.
Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. NIV
1 Tim 2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus… NIV
Eph 6:18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. NIV
Church must intensify intercessory prayers, to petition the Lord for the salvation of mankind.
The saints must intensify the cry before the Lord for the establishment of the Body of Christ (Isa. 62:6&7).
Church must pray for political authorities to submit themselves under the wisdom of Christ, who is the King of kings.
We must meet this current pandemic with prayers and intercession! With the prayers of the saints, God can redeem souls.
Ps 133:1 How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! 2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes. 3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. NIV
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. NIV
There is a huge difference between church as a devotional service and church as a spiritual community. Church is called to be a community under the government of Christ. Community is important for the church to be able to navigate the current crisis. No one believer or leader can face this moment alone. Community is the revelation of common life in Christ. And once this revelation is established, it starts to trickle down and manifest in the socio-economic realm of the saints.
It’s going to be difficult to start now to build community life. Churches that have not been able to prioritize community life must use this period of the pandemic to reflect and begin to build around this principle post this pandemic. In that way, they will be ready for what is to come – the next constriction.
Spiritual community in churches empowers leaders to be able to continue to move forward in the purposes of God even during a national lockdown. It’s impossible to do this with “church attendees”. Churches need to be made up of fully committed believers, who are in active relationship and mutual accountability, for them to thrive in these turbulent times. In other words, community life is a critical platform upon which leaders can still “sail the ship” amidst the storm.
Even more powerful is the fact that community life becomes a platform of witnessing and evangelism, in a time when people are isolated, vulnerable and fearful. Beyond the message of salvation, we must proclaim to our neighborhoods, cities and villages by a construct of life that is appealing to the human need.
Discipleship and Equipping
Matt 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” NIV
Eph 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. NIV
Churches will not be able to confront moments like this pandemic with simply “church attendees”. Churches can only walk through this storm with disciples or students of Christ who have a clear obligation to live for the Lord and to journey with fellow believers.
Phil 2:12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. NIV
These believers have been trained and equipped to walk in Christlikeness. They have revelation, spiritual energy and humility to stay connected and to remain accountable even when in a state of isolation. They are living for the Lord; they are not doing this for a show. They have faith and the courage to not retreat in the crisis. And they know how to draw deep within the vulnerability of their soul to rise up in prayer before the Lord. They have seen Him work in their lives before, helping them to “kill the lion and the bear”, and so they have faith that God will keep them.
It is time for the church to intensify efforts of evangelism and the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Rom 10:14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” NIV
Like Noah, we must be messengers of righteousness in our generation.
2 Peter 2:5 if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others… NIV
Eph 3:7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Not only mut we proclaim in word but also in deed, to express the manifold wisdom of God that sustains our lives in the midst of the conditions of the world – our individual lives, our families and our faith communities.
Ministry of Love and Mercy
Isa 61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn. NIV
Gal 2:10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. NIV
We must engage in practical ministries of Christ, to touch the brokenness of humanity and minister the love of God. As humanity breaks under the pandemic, we must stand in communities with the word of Christ, the healing anointing and material resources that the Lord has blessed us with, to minister to humanity. We must bring the word of hope, truth and deliverance to communities.
Engaging the Government and Political Leadership
2 Sam 7:1 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” 3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.” 4 That night the word of the Lord came to Nathan… 17 Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation. NIV
This is the story of prophet Nathan providing prophetic and insightful support to the desires the king had in the development of the nation. Church must actively seek to resource and cooperate with the government, in its (government’s) efforts to secure human wellbeing amidst this pandemic. Here are some ways in which the church can help…
Over and above praying for those in authority, church must sit at the “table of the king” to provide critical wisdom and insight in the strategic direction of the nation.
Church must mobilize its own resources, including human resources, talents and skills in the process of mitigating the crisis.
Church leaders must shepherd their faith communities towards responsible and kingdom oriented citizenship, it must create a platform of advocacy, educational campaign and awareness to help direct the flow of human life towards a desirable end.
Please follow the links below for other resources around the pandemic:
It was not uncommon in ancient times for nations and kings to seek to understand the cause, prophetic meaning and future implications of significant events. This spiritual-prophetic thinking was embraced, embedded and entrenched in ancient civilizations, both in Jewish and Gentile cultures. Sometimes God would send prophets like Jeremiah or Ezekiel to the Jews, with some form of dramatization of divine communication, knowing that the people would naturally seek to understand the prophetic meaning behind the drama.
Ezek. 24:15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. 17 Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover the lower part of your face or eat the customary food [of mourners].” 18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded. 19 Then the people asked me, “Won’t you tell us what these things have to do with us?” NIV
When the prophet Ezekiel did not mourn the death of his wife, people knew that beyond the prophet’s personal situation of grief, there was a message for them. The amazing thing in this story and others, is that even when the Jews or any other ancient nation found themselves in a state of disconnection from God, they had an eye to see God through events around them. In the context of church, we talk of “signs, wonders and miracles”. The word “sign” means an indication. As a verb, it means to indicate or point out something. The word defines a miracle with a spiritual end and purpose. It speaks of a miracle that leads to something out of and beyond itself. The word “wonder” is closely associated with the word sign. It speaks of that which is startling, and that which leaves a permanent mark in the memory of man. And the word “miracle” speaks of acts of divine power – a disruption of rational and scientific norms.
Heb 2:4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. NIV
The purpose of “signs, wonders and miracles” is to lift human awareness, perception and consciousness to higher and often moral realities of life. That is, a sign or a wonder is designed to disrupt the conversation of humans and secure their attention to something they were previously not aware of. For those of us who go to church gatherings, we may be used to signs, wonders and miracles mostly in the context of personal healing etc. But actually, a sign or wonder is not only related to God’s acts of personal redemption, but it also refers to macro, global and cosmic actions of God. As an example, Jesus referred to His death on the Cross as a sign given to man (Matt. 16:1-4). In Acts 2, the birthing of the church and the release of the Holy Spirit to mankind would come with “wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below” (Acts 2:19-20). The Scripture here is clearly referring to both astronomical and environmental, climatic occurrences. This means that we must broaden our understanding of signs to realities bigger than Sunday morning gatherings. Again, this idea was so entrenched in ancient civilizations that the magi or the wise men from the east understood the appearance of a star (an astronomical and even scientific occurrence) to represent something divine – the birthing of the Christ (Matt. 2:1-3). The wise men asked, “where is the One who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star and have come to worship Him”. Not only so, but even Herod was not dismissive of the magi’s account – he called special conferences, instituted new policies and put his region under some form of state of emergency (obviously for evil reasons), on the account of what the wise men said to him.
If we go a little further back in history, we see kings like Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar calling conferences to process dreams and political issues that troubled their minds.
Dan 2:2 When they came in and stood before the king, 3 he (Nebuchadnezzar) said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.” NIV
The word “troubled” means to tap regularly; to agitate. The word also means to stir into action. King Nebuchadnezzar gives another account in Daniel 4…
Dan 4:4 I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. 5 I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in my bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me. NIV
In the scripture above, the king refers to “thoughts (images) on my bed” and “the visions of my head” (NKJV). The word “thought” means mental conception. In its root meaning, it defines a situation of being pregnant with child. In the context of the scripture above, this word (thought) therefore refers to the process of formation of new mental burdens and agenda in relation to the process of governing a nation. The word “vision” means sight, to gaze upon, and to contemplate. Furthermore, the king uses the phrase, “I was terrified”, to describe the outcome of his feelings. The word “terrified” is an Aramaic word that means to be disturbed and to be in a hurry. This means that God also speaks to us or to humans through divine disturbances of the mind. We must note the context in which the dream found the king – he was at home feeling content and prosperous. He had a feeling of peace, safety and prosperity that was perhaps based on his own sense of success in what he had built. The king’s response to this inner feeling again shows us how prophetically inclined ancient civilizations were. The king commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be brought before him to interpret the thoughts of his mind (Dan. 4:6).
What is clear as we consider ancient civilizations is that, 1) they understood the intimate relationship between spirit and matter, and that earthly occurrences had spiritual origins, spiritual meaning and spiritual outcomes, powerful enough to impact on the affairs of man; 2) they had no problem fusing and blending science and spiritual-prophetic insight – they did not see science as an enemy of spiritual-prophetic knowledge. The advent of the European Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment changed this reality, as humans sought to create distance and hostility between science and reason on the one hand, and faith and spirituality on the other hand. Fast forward to modern day life, spirituality has been reduced to a devotional experience, often on a particular day of the week and in a building that is often removed from life. The point here is not to speak against the idea of public gatherings for the purpose of worship, but where this is not integrated with life, then our order of church is against the order of Creation, where the administration of life, romance, family and spirituality were all one coherent reality (Gen. 2). The idea of spirituality as the foundation of morality, reason and insight has been lost. The Bible for instance, is not simply a personal-devotional book, it’s also a book of wisdom or philosophy, history, science etc. – in the main, the Bible is a book that deals with the enterprise of human life. It is a book from which humans, families, politicians, business people etc. can learn about life and their various sectors.
Heb 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. NIV
The problem with this “enlightenment” type thinking is that present day nations understand faith to only be a personal devotion phenomenon, and not something that can help us develop a worldview to understand macro, socio-political and cosmic events of life. In the process, we’ve lost the God of Nations! The problem with this is that there are realities – social, economic and political – that we will continue to misunderstand due to our limited human wisdom.
When we consider all these issues, we must realize that just like ancient kings “jumped out of their comfort” when they were confronted by a sign or a wonder, to discuss and understand occurrences of their day, so must the present-day political authorities and nation-states consider (1) the possible cause of the current pandemic, (2) the context and conditions that have resulted in the incapacity of nations to deal with the pandemic, (3) and the nature of life after the pandemic. In considering these three fundamental questions, like Nebuchadnezzar, political authorities must “hurry up” to see how they can mitigate the damages caused both by the current and future “pandemics”. In other words, this is not only a time for medical interventions and humanitarian efforts, it’s also a time to see the future (to have insight and foresight) and to consider new structural reforms that can produce new systemic realities.
The magnitude of the pandemic
Looking at the magnitude, the scale, the speed and the global impact of this pandemic, the ancient kings, prophets, philosophers and ancient societies would have concluded that something other-worldly was happening! Clearly, at least according to the news and the statistics coming through, something is indeed moving across the nations of the earth. And if God is on the other side of the line of whatever is happening, catching up with it together with us, and trying to stop it, then He isn’t as powerful as He declares Himself to be. And since we know God the Creator of the earth, Jehovah the self-sufficient One, that He is no spectator to life events, and that nothing happens to His creation at least without it earning His divine oversight and attention, because His eyes scan the entire earth (2 Chron. 16:9, Ps. 15:3, Heb. 4:13). And that this same God is so detailed that He has numbered the very hairs of our heads (Luke 12:7), that He never sleeps nor slumbers (Ps. 121:3-5), and that He knows the future beforehand, then we have to say that (1) either this pandemic is the direct hand of God or (2) He has knowingly allowed whatever is moving in the earth, to produce the level of impact that we’re seeing on our television screens. And this further raises doctrinal and prophetic questions as we seek to calibrate the lens through which we see this Creator. That is, at the core of this conversation, is the theology of the Nature of God. It is good for us to ask questions because they take us out of our comfort zones and lead us back to God. When we consider the theological principle, that nothing happens in life outside of the scope of God’s eyes – then at the very least, this pandemic must leave us confronting and engaging God in one way or another. After all, it is the glory of God to conceal the matter, and it is the glory of kings to search it out (Prov. 25:2).
The Character of the Pandemic
The one other thing that we see in Biblical-Prophetic language is usage of illustrations like animals to describe signs, wonders and supernatural movements. This is very common but not limited to the Books of Daniel and Revelation. King Pharaoh saw an image of animals (cows) and plants or vegetation that spoke to the seven-year cycle of his economy. Prophet Zechariah also saw a lot of images that characterized life in his days. So this happened to kings and prophets, Jews and Gentiles, and to believers and non-believers alike. The issue is not to be obsessed with images or visions; the issue is to find words and language to understand, capture and analyze occurrences at play before us.
What are some of the characteristics of this pandemic? And what are their implications to the nations of the world?
This pandemic has speed
It was in December 2019 that we started hearing about “this disease” that affects the respiratory system of the human body. This was happening in Wuhan, China at the time. As we stepped into the months of February and March 2020, we started to see global infections taking place at a high speed. Presidents and Prime Ministers would have delivered their state of the nation speeches around February, and this would not have necessarily featured in their plans and concerns (perhaps it was a boardroom conversation at the time). We are now in April and are faced with having to re-prioritize our budgets around this pandemic. There is no doubt that governments and public healthcare systems around the world have been ambushed by this pandemic. There has not been enough time to do proper preparation and allocation of resources. Health care workers across the nations of the world (rich and poor) are in need of protective gear. The world has been overtaken by the pandemic and is now having to catch up!
Implication: governments must always be ready when it comes to policies, resources and protocols of saving human life. Our first rule of government and of economics must be in preserving the breath of life in human bodies. Government sectors and industries that are involved in the business of human life are paramount.
This pandemic has global reach
This pandemic is unlike a tsunami or war taking place in some region – it has come to the doorsteps of continents, nations and households around the world. Those who have not yet seen a significant rise in their regions and nations still have to live with a degree of uncertainty. This is not a regional problem! This is a global problem that has been facilitated by global transportation systems – the virus has been moving through the human agency. Although China has had the advantage of being ground zero, meaning that they had a specific region to lockdown to contain this virus, the rest of the nations could not apply the same strategy because they were the recipients of the disease. This means that as people traveled back to their countries of origin, they landed in different parts of their countries causing widespread infections, leading to national lockdown measures. The global nature of the pandemic shows us that we live in the environment and age of global intimacy. Physical distance and time zones are increasingly becoming non-factors in the proximity of nations.
Implication: governments and nation-states are entities that exist within an interconnected global system. There are no distant conditions anymore. Increasingly, citizens must elect political leaders who don’t only understand the global implications of their local actions, but who also have foresight to see the local implications of global developments. Politics truly cannot be left to politicians and political parties.
This pandemic is non-discriminatory
We have seen the rich being infected alongside the poor; those in positions of power alongside ordinary citizens. We’ve seen infections across race-groups, ethnic groups, gender and age groups. Wealth and access to security resources mean absolutely nothing when you are confronted by a microbiological enemy that you cannot see with your naked eyes.
Implication: the world is used to class-oriented socio-political problems. As we move deeper into new territories of climate and biological challenges, we must realize that we are dealing with a “new normal” in which conventional means of security will increasingly have no effect.
This pandemic has global coordination with shifting epicenters
Not only is this pandemic global, it’s also moving with a sense of global coordination. All nations and systems of the world are paralyzed and in quarantine at the same time. Even those not yet affected are tracking the situation closely and some have already taken precautionary measures of lockdown to protect lives. There also has been a continental shift in epicenters. In December 2019 and January 2020, all eyes were upon China (Asia). Then we moved to Italy (Europe) and now the eyes of the world are upon the USA (North America). Governments of nations in the remaining continents must use the time they have wisely as they prepare themselves in case of outbreaks in their regions.
Implication: living in a globalized world means that we are dealing with social conditions at a bigger scale than our national borders. Not only does this require a new age of cooperation between nations, but it also requires nations to develop policies, protocols and resources that are pre-configured to dock especially in a time of crisis.
This pandemic has systemic and dimensional reach
Not only does this pandemic have a global reach, it also has systemic reach. There is not a single system of life that has not been affected – from political, economic to social systems. The politics of opposition has been suspended as governments and political parties make effort to be united under the priority to save human life. Businesses have had to shut down to allow citizens to be home to observe containment laws and measures. Cultural systems have also been affected as humans re-orientate themselves on new measures of social distancing. On the one hand, humans in general have a deep need for social life – self-isolation measures bring some deep psychological implications. On the other hand, cultures that are deeply communal and intimate are going through some form of culture shock.
Implication: political, economic and social systems of nation-states have no value outside the sanctity of human life. Nation-states must revisit the ideal of promoting the wellbeing of the human.
The pandemic has put the family-household system under the spotlight
Although the family-household system fits within the broader social system of nations, it’s important for us to specifically acknowledge the level of pressure upon families at this moment. This pandemic has resulted in containment measures as nations put in place lockdowns. But here is the reality – a national lockdown is not possible without families and households. When a government tells people not to move around, then those measures must take place upon the shoulders of the household system. As a result of this, we are now seeing reports of increased levels of gender-based violence. The reality is that a fragile family cannot withstand the pressure of an extended lockdown.
Implication: the family is the core unit of society upon which all systems of nations depend. It is in the interest of governments and nation-states to promote the sanctity of family, and to drive laws that produce stable families.
This pandemic is characterized by both softness and brutality
This pandemic is both soft and brutal. There are people that emerge out of it asymptomatic when others end up in Intensive Care Units or even dying. The medical system has not figured out the pathogenesis of the virus – that is, the origination, development or pathological process of the disease has not yet been comprehended. In other words, science is not currently able to help us understand the prognosis or the medical outcome based on the nature of the virus on the one hand, and on the health profiles of people on the other hand. Currently, science is not able to help us fully make sense of what is going on. Two people can be in the same health profile but can emerge with different medical outcomes out of this virus. This makes us think about the plague of the first born in Egypt (Ex. 12).
Ex 12:29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. NIV
On the one hand, the pandemic of the exodus affected Egyptian families only, and across the social class of the Egyptian society. On the other hand, the first born of the Jews were not affected. You could have had two males of the same age, one Jewish and the other Egyptian, and only find that only the Egyptian male was affected by whatever disease that was unleashed that evening. There are certain theological streams we can follow in this story. But for the purpose of this article, the point in view is that in the history of mankind, we’ve had a situation of a pandemic whose pathogenesis we didn’t understand. And that in the context of the story, this was understood to be a sign and a wonder of some kind.
Implication: science is useful to mankind as it helps us do a whole lot of things. In creating life, God has in fact given us the blessing of scientific ability to understand a whole range of issues, including His very nature (Rom. 1:20, Acts 17:26-28, Ps. 19:1). That is, God and science are not enemies, for if the creation of God requires scientific ability to comprehend, and if God has left scientific trails and evidence for us to understand Him, then God must be the very Source of scientific knowledge. But science can sometimes fail to help us process realities at play before us, or put differently, God has chosen other media of knowledge and understanding, other than science. There are therefore human experiences that require us to tap into non-material realities of hope and faith, to seek to understand what it is that God is doing in our lives and times. And that in this age of “rationality”, we must re-embrace spirituality not only as a devotional experience, but also as a source of knowledge and wisdom in the process of administration of human life. This is what ancient kings did very well!
This pandemic has immobilized the economic system
This generation has in the main lived in the era of the supremacy of economics. We think in economic terms. We make value judgment through the lens of economics. Capitalism is not simply some academic theory or ideology for economists and politicians, it is the very lens through which human beings engage with life. Watching this pandemic unfolding, it’s been clear that governments have had to make judgments to put in place containment measures against the drive for economic productivity and expansion. Now, economics is important for the livelihood of people, neighborhoods and nations. But economics takes place upon the foundation of sanctity of human life. Simply put, we cannot do economic activity with sickly or even a dying society. What we are seeing in this pandemic is that not only does economics produce human wellbeing, but human wellbeing is in fact the foundation of economic activity. Perhaps in some economic schools of thought, the view is that it is through economics that nations secure human wellbeing – not so true, at least according to the dynamics of this pandemic.
And so this pandemic has forced nations to put containment measures. Here is the reality, to save lives you need to lock down the nation. To lock down the nation is to keep human beings at home, and to keep humans at home is to immobilize the entire economic system. Perhaps what this allows us to rethink is the very objective of economic activity – if economic activity is geared towards human wellbeing and not towards the greed of the few, then this produces a philosophical framework that allows us to navigate difficult moments like the current pandemic.
Jer. 29:4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. NIV
To “plant gardens and eat what they produce” means that the purpose of economics is human wellbeing – this is the economics of human wellbeing.
Mal 3:8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse — the whole nation of you — because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty. NIV
This scripture in Malachi is often used in church in the context of tithes and offerings. Beyond that, the scripture perhaps helps us to see into the mind and nature of God in terms of how we must engage economics and systemic life in society. In Biblical thinking, a house is understood to be a family – a human community living together with a sense of common identity and livelihood. The New Testament uses the word “oikos” which means “a dwelling and a family”. The word oikos is related to the word “oikonomeo” which is the word “economy”. This word means distribution of resource, the administration of a household, the arrangement of an administration. Theories, ideologies and schools of thought are not simply academic concepts , they are mechanisms by which we arrange and administer the flow of human life. God’s preferred theory, ideology and arrangement is one in which we engage economic activity (in the fields) to bring back food to the house (house here referring to the community that we are a part of). The objective of economic activity is the wellbeing of the household – the wellbeing of the collective. God says that when we engage in the field and fail to bring back the returns to the house, we are like thieves – we are stealing from the rest of society.
Implication: although in pure capitalistic thinking, life is on a standstill currently, but according to the economics of human wellbeing, life is in fact being preserved and sustained for the future. This is not a time of lack of productivity. This is the time to preserve the futures of humanity, so that we can go back to the fields again, at a later stage, when it is safe to do so. The economic worldview of humans as simply a production machine for those who own capital is certainly being challenged. But the economic worldview of economic productivity as a means for human wellbeing is being established, in the sense that within this view, your cardinal reference point is the wellbeing of society, and not the profiteering of the capitalist.
This pandemic brings the Social Contract between governments and citizens under a new spotlight
The concept of Social Contract speaks of the agreement that exists between a government and the people it’s governing over, the idea that citizens can give the government the right to govern their lives, provided that the outcome of the process of government will establish human rights and human wellbeing. At the centre of the social contract is the law (constitution) and policies of the government. The natural tension implied in the social contract conversation is one of the rights of the State to govern over the individual human.
For the sake of this article, we will stretch this principle further back, beyond the Age of Enlightenment and Greco-Roman civilization, right back to Creation.
Gen 2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” 18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” NIV
Before there was any ideological and academic conversation on the issue of the social contract, there was God creating human beings and instructing them on how to be human. The very first command that ever came to our ancestor Adam when he came to consciousness, brought definition and framework on human life. It gave details on what to do and what not to do. The Fall is in fact the result of the tension and attitude that existed in human heart towards the government of God.
Gen 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. NIV
One day, Adam and Eve gave in to what they perceived to be their individual right over God’s government. In the process, not only did they bring chaos to their lives and immediate environment, but also to the rest of mankind. Jesus, on the other hand redeems and restores the social contract that exists between God and man. When Jesus is confronted by the need to obey the command of God in the midst of hostility, shame and pain, he clearly defers and gives up His individual right by upholding the responsibility to obey.
Luke 22:41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. NIV
Jesus understood the severity of the moment and the shame that would come with the crucifixion, but He made a conscious choice to obey the command of God and fulfill the mission.
Now it is important that we understand that the social contract tension between God and man is one of the major themes of the Scriptures. On the one hand, God declares, “I am God, beside me there is no other… and you shall have no other god beside me”. Such a statement leaves us with no other option but to embrace Him who is the Creator of life and obey His commands. But, on the other hand, we humans are constantly choosing to follow our own evil human desires. Jesus settles this tension both through His own example of how He relates with the authority of God, and by reconciling the idea of love with the idea of ruler-ship.
John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. NIV
However, if there is this disequilibrium in the social contract between God and man, then certainly that would naturally play out in the social contract between the State (which is sometimes imperfect) and the citizen.
The tension that exists in the social contract conversation is born out of the following realities: a) governments can and have abused their rights and powers, b) citizens do not understand that according to God, the Creator and Architect of human life, the purpose of government is not to give privileges to a few politicians, but it is to promote and establish human wellbeing – issues of peace, prosperity and justice. Frankly, outside of this framework and divine mandate to governments, citizens have no obligation to submit to the authority of the State. In fact, in cases of abuse of State powers, God is often on the side of the revolution – this was certainly the case during the oppressive Pharaoh who provoked prince Moses into a liberator.
The mandate and framework of the government is clearly outlined in Romans 13:
Rom 13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. NIV
Several issues are outlined for us here:
The ruler (or the government) is the servant of God and of the people (Rom. 13:4). The word “servant” means an attendant, one who waits at the table, a deacon of the people.
The mandate of the ruler is to do good to the citizens – to borrow the words of 1 Timothy 2 verse 2, the ruler must establish “peace in the land”.
The ruler is equally an agent of wrath or an agent of justice. Another bible translation says that “the ruler is the avenger who executes wrath” (NKJV). The word “avenger” means one who carries out justice.
The objective of the State and therefore of a government is clearly to establish peace, prosperity and justice. The scriptures highlighted above, clearly indicate to us that God has established the principle of government in human creation – that whenever and wherever there is a human community, there must be political authority to establish order, peace, prosperity and justice.
However, as governments put containment measures in place, to lockdown movement of citizens, and to even prohibit activities of faith and worship, the social contract conversation has once again resurfaced. There is a silent conversation taking place behind locked households concerning the right of a government to prohibit human movement, public gatherings etc. Partly, this conversation stems from the fact that the modern-day citizen, a) does not understand citizenship as a political reality within the machinery of the State, b) governments have not established citizenship education, to help citizens understand the very principle of social contract. If the scriptures we’ve highlighted are anything to go by, then actually, governments must put measures in place to save their citizens against this ravaging microbiological enemy called novel coronavirus. However, citizens, as well as human rights institutions, must remain vigilant to ensure that a) governments do not engage in unwarranted solutions, b) that there is no abuse of power, c) and that governments are not unduly infringing on the privacy of their citizens.
Implication: there is a great need for citizenship education for the modern-day citizen, to establish the proper understanding of the relationship between the State and the citizen. Such education will go a long way in 1) helping the process of government especially in times like the current pandemic, 2) in securing cooperation between governments and citizens, 3) and in safeguarding against abuse.
In summary, we can say the following:
There is something happening in the world, and it is indeed other-worldly.
There is no way that God is pushed to the corner and left trying to come back for another round to prove Himself amidst this pandemic.
This pandemic has a character that the nations of the world must investigate and understand, to prepare for the future.
This pandemic has exposed the true conditions of the systems of human life. The words of Dr Anthony Fauci (the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the USA) are applicable here, “…sometimes when you’re in the middle of a crisis, like we are now with the coronavirus, it really does ultimately shine a very bright light on some of the real weaknesses and foibles in our society”. The question is, to what extent is this statement applicable to other systems and sectors of life, other than public healthcare systems (political, governmental, socio-economic, family and including church)?
Governments have an obligation from God to put measures in place to protect and promote human wellbeing.
Citizens, on the other hand, have a moral obligation to cooperate with governments in the process of administrating human wellbeing.
The nations of the world must prepare to step into a new era of humanity post this pandemic.
Below are the topics and links of other articles on the current pandemic:
This is the third in a series of articles aimed at edifying the church in the current season of the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown. The first article focused on doing church in the crisis of coronavirus. The second one focused on drivers for effective life in the current season of the pandemic. In this article, we focus on restating the foundations of the New Covenant (NC). The New Covenant was ushered by the Lord Jesus Christ through the sacrificial act of the Cross. Not only did His death serve as a ransom and a penalty for our sin, offering us salvation through grace, it also nullified the ineffective Old Covenant (OC) of law, which represented a whole philosophy of relating to God and of doing ministry. We therefore must see the Cross not only as a mechanism of human redemption, but also as a doorway into a new dispensation of life and ministry. The Cross represented a massive reformation of systems of ministry – a replacement of one system by another.
Matt 27:50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. NIV
The picture that we get when we read the story of the crucifixion and its impact on the system of Moses (the Law and the Temple) is one of sovereign and violent confrontation as God was nullifying one system to establish another. Hebrews states, “by calling this covenant “new”, He (God) has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear” (Heb. 8:13). The word “obsolete” defines that which is worn out or that which no longer has utilityin life. On the other hand, the word “aging” literally speaks of old age – it speaks of being wrinkled, frail and weak. We know that God does not want His church to be wrinkled (Eph. 5:25-27). To be wrinkled is a spiritual condition. We can be the most “advanced, modern and trendy” church and still be wrinkled in the spirit. To identify the wrinkles, we don’t look at how contemporary is our buildings and worship songs or how technologically advanced we are (needless to say that the absence of these components does not automatically constitute a healthy church). Remember, the idea of being wrinkled must firstly be understood in the very nature of the world – we do live in a world that (although currently leading the 4th Industrial Revolution) is wrinkled and decaying. We live amidst a humanity and culture that is progressively decaying and from which we are exhorted to escape (2 Pet. 1:4). The decay is not in technology; the decay is in the values and arrangements of life. In the same way, to assess whether we are a wrinkled church / believer or not, we must look at (a) our doctrine, (b) the content of our vision and inspiration towards the future, (c) values, culture and or our very humanity as the church (or our quality of life) (d) and philosophy of ministry. The emphatic point we are making here is that the Cross violently confronts wrinkled and ineffective systems of ministry.
The curtain was a partition that separated God and man. It created a system of representative spirituality and ministry in which one priest represented the masses of people. The emphatic value of the system of Moses was separation and limitation. Every church represents a value, and it’s important especially for elders or pastors to consider carefully the main value that the churches they lead represent. It is important to note that through the Cross, the Lord nullified the system of law without consulting any priest – i.e. He acted sovereignly. This is the confrontational nature of the Cross towards systems of ministry that activate old ministry approaches of law. The “tearing of the curtain” is an act of divine violence towards any ministry that operates as a hindrance between God and man.
Before we itemize the foundational values of the NC, let us consider key components constituting the framework within which a church must operate:
Church requires leadership: there must be elders in any biblically constituted church. Although church was established through the act of Holy Spirit baptism to all believers in Acts 2, but this did not nullify the principle and requirement for leadership. Paul planted churches and appointed elders (Acts 14:23). Not only was eldership appointment simply Paul’s “approach to ministry” but he established this as doctrine or a “standard operating procedure” for all churches (1 Tim. 3:1-7). Paul referred to absence of leadership or leader-lessness in the church as a form of crookedness that needed to be straightened out (Tit. 1:5). But what does the presence and function of leadership mean in the church? It means that there must be oversight, guidance, care and accountability. It means that leaders must give prophetic direction under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and believers must (willingly and voluntarily) submit themselves to their leaders, under the witness of the same Holy Spirit.
Church requires doctrine: the duty of elders is to instruct the saints in the way and purpose of the Lord. It is to shepherd the saints in Christlikeness. Paul said, “we teach everyone with all wisdom” (Col. 1:28). The early church devoted themselves in apostles’ teaching, among other things (Acts 2:42). Doctrine means that in the church, there must be a common and shared belief system that guides every believer in the way of the Lord. The absence of doctrine produces (a) lawlessness and (b) disunity of life and purpose. It is through doctrine that we can be “perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor. 1:10).
Church requires to meet for the purpose of fellowship, corporate worship and instruction: we are not to forsake the gathering of the saints (Heb. 10:24&25). In the statement, “where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them” (Matt. 18:20), the Lord is not simply giving us a “comforting scripture” for gatherings that have less numbers. But this scripture declares two powerful values for us: (a) our common belief in Jesus Christ must produce dynamic and ongoing fellowship and intentional gathering, (b) and these gatherings must release and dispense the government of God into the atmosphere (spirit world) and into the conditions of human life. In prior verses (Matt. 18:15-19), the Lord gives the picture of church as an organized community with governmental responsibility over its affairs. This clearly indicates that we are not to be casual about our membership in the church.
Hebrews 2 declares, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises” (Heb. 2:12). Another translation says, “in the midst of the church” (KJV) or “in the midst of the assembly” (NKJV). This verse is taken from Ps 22, the psalm of the suffering of Christ. In Ps. 22:25 it says, “from you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly”.
In Rom. 1:11, Paul declares his desire to meet the saints in Rome in order to impart a spiritual gift to them. And there is evidence throughout the book of Acts of the practice of church gathering for the reasons stated above. However, the scripture does not prescribe where we are to meet. “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together” (Acts 2:46&47). “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:42). “On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer” (Acts 16:13). “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him (Apollos), they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:26). “He (Paul) took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years…” (Acts 19:9&10). There is no evidence that suggests that there is a particular meeting place for the church that must be adopted as doctrine. If there is a “house church” then there must be a “temple courts church”, a “river church” and a “lecture hall church” according to the scriptures highlighted above. The following things must be considered to sustain a balanced healthy life in the church: (a) we must be clear about the value of meaningful fellowship in the church and we must do all we can to protect this; (b) we must consider logistical and administrative issues in our choice of meeting places. It is reasonable to expect that different people or churches may have different burdens and choices (even from God) in terms of meeting places, to work out a particular divine outcome. But these things must not be taken as universal truth but rather as contextual prophetic directives or even unique logistical considerations.
All in all, church must have leadership, common doctrine and must be able to gather. And where church can’t meet, then we must realize that we are living in extra ordinary times (like this current pandemic which has led to nation-states to institute a lockdown). It is in such times that we must consider and restate the values of the New Covenant, that empower the church to continue to thrive, even in the midst of crisis and limitation.
Let us restate the foundational values of the New Covenant (NC) that must hold the life of the church together, in the current moment of the lockdown where we are unable to have physical fellowship and gatherings:
1. The Spirituality of Direct Access
Eph 2:18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. NIV
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. NIV
Unlike the OC of law, which was characterized by representative spirituality via the agency of the Levites and the High Priests, a born-again, Spirit filled believer has direct access to God, any and every time. The very heart of the Cross is not only to cleans us from sin, but it is also to remove any hindrance in relationship between God and His people. We can lift up our hands from our homes and worship God. We can flood the heavens with prayers and petitions every time. We may be locked down in terms of movement and physical gatherings, but we have full access and permission to engage our God. The word “access” used in Eph. 2:18 is both a legal and relational word. As a legal word, it defines the right of approach granted to someone by a king or a senior political official. As a relational word, it means “to bring near”. The believer has full legal authority and relational access to have direct union with God.
2. Internalized Faith
Heb 8:10 This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. NIV
Our belief system and faith are no longer based on external or cosmetic elements but on a transactional and contemplative experience of our hearts and minds. The law is no longer written on stone tablets (it is no longer “institutionalized”). We may not be having “meetings” but spiritual transactions have not stopped (we must just ensure that good, holy and godly transactions of the Holy Spirit are taking place in our hearts, not destructive transactions of Darkness). The Holy Spirit continues to write and define us within, and He is working in harmony with the doctrine He is establishing in the church.
3. The Altar of the Human Heart
In the OC, worship was expressed from an external-physical altar. In the NC, the altar is the human heart.
22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience. NIV
Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. NIV
Not only does the Holy Spirit transact with us in our hearts, to impart divine life, but we also express our worship to God from within our hearts. The song of our heart does not wait for Sunday morning or whatever other day during which our church gathers. But that song echoes before God day and night, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Ps 45:1 My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king… NIV
Let us not be paralyzed by the conditions of life around us but let us allow the Lord to stir our hearts towards a noble theme of the Kingdom of God. The word “stirred” in Ps. 45:1 means to “gush and to overflow”. The word “theme” means “a word, a matter, a speech or a cause”. As the Lord stirs our hearts, we break out in worship and in speech – we worship Him and flood the human environment with a different prophetic narrative.
4. The Principle of the Human Temple
1 Cor 3:16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? NIV
2 Cor 6:16 For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” NIV
Rom 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. NIV
In the OC, the place of worship was a physical temple. In the NC, we (redeemed humans) are the place of worship. Our very lives are the living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1) – i.e. we are the song of the Lord. The song is not simply the lyrics on the screen or on the hymn book on Sunday morning – it is the redemptive narrative of our very lives. Not only so, the Lord indwells us as His temple. We no longer point at the temple but we are the temple that provides a spiritual context for a sacrifice of life that is offered to God as we willingly obey Him right in the midst of our human experiences.
2 Cor 2:15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. NIV
We are the temple, the altar and the sacrifice – the Lord receives us daily, as we walk with Him, as a sweet aroma and a fragrance of life. In the midst of the smell of fear, hopelessness and death, we must release a different and beautiful scent.
5. Decentralized Worship
Heb 13:15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that confess his name. NIV
Ps 103:22 Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. NIV
1 Tim 2:8 I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. NIV
We no longer must engage an annual physical pilgrimage to a physical place of worship. We can worship God anywhere! We can worship God in our homes! We are no longer confined to a physical place or by a physical calendar.
9 But now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. NIV
6. The Priesthood of all Believers
9 And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” NIV
We are no longer confined to a limited representative spirituality. We are redeemed not to be spectators in the process of ministering before God. We are now all called as ministers and ambassadors of the New Covenant. We are serving as priests under our High Priest, Jesus Christ. We can all worship, pray and witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. The work of the Lord can therefore not be stopped or hindered by the current lockdown.
7. Spiritual Formation
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness from ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).
The NC is not merely driven by the need for weekly activities, it is driven by the goal of producing a people who share a common image of Christ. Value in the NC is not determined by the amount and scope of ministry activities but by transforming lives. Activities only serve as platforms for the church to be trans-formed in Christ. The word “transformed” used in 2 Cor. 3:18 is the biological word metamorphosis, which describes the change of the condition of a thing, the process of changing from one form to another. The word describes a process where one is formed into something that they were not before (spiritual formation). That means that our upbringing and historical origins (no matter how disadvantaged they may have been) have no power to determine who we can be in Christ in the future. It means that Christ is now our new historical origin, determining our potential for the future. The trigger for this spiritual formation is in beholding Christ (the revelation of Christ), it is not in mere routines of ministry. In the OC, there was a lot of activity which however did not produce the image of Christ in the heart of the worshiper (Heb. 9:9). The lockdown must help to revive a contemplative culture in the church, for us to behold the Lord, to put aside the things of the flesh and step into the fullness of His life (Eph. 4:13, Eph. 4:22-24). In the stillness of the activities of life, we must hear the trans-formative voice of the Lord within. As believers, we can sometimes be familiar with hearing the operational voice of the Spirit telling us the ministry things we need to do in this world, but we are not always tuned in the trans-formative voice that tells us who we need to be in Christ. The trans-formative voice of the Spirit fulfills and completes the creation process of God in our lives, which we lost at the Fall and which has been restored through Christ (1 Cor. 15:45-49). If we engage the trans-formative voice of God in our hearts, we will come out of this lockdown a different people. And if we continue in this powerful spiritual process, we shall surely become a powerful church. Let us note this – the world is not simply waiting for a people who will do great things; the world is waiting for a people who can be the transmission of the image of Christ in the earth (a people who can be the “great things”)! What the world has lost is not activities and programs, it is the image of its Creator!
Implications of the Foundational Values of the New Covenant
In conclusion, these values of the NC have the following implications for the church:
As stated earlier, these values and positions do not undermine the need for leadership, doctrine and gatherings in the church. On the contrary, we need leaders to equip us so we can be more competent and fluent in the noble goals of the NC.
Leaders and churches must refuse the temptation to run as Old Covenant priests who do everything for the people. They must be careful not to reduce the NC believer into a spectator. In this sense, the current lockdown is not necessarily “limiting”, but it provides believers with a golden opportunity to exercise their faith under the guidance and directives of their elders.
Equally, pastors must refuse the temptation to derive their value out of ungodly dependence by the saints. Pastors must equip and empower the saints (Eph. 4:11-13). The fruit of an empowered believer is what determines true value of church leadership.
Leaders and churches really exist to promote and advance these New Covenant values which were established by the Lord through the Cross. When the church functions like an Old Covenant ministry, not only is she undermining the work of the Cross, she is acting in direct contradiction to the values of the Cross.
When the church re-groups post the novel coronavirus pandemic and when she is able to gather, she must do so upon these NC foundations – this must therefore inform the philosophy of ministry.
The fact that the believer is baptized in the Holy Spirit and is called to be a priest unto God must not lead to lawlessness, rebellion and chaos, it must produce an even more obedient, submissive and powerful church that functions as a community under the government of the Spirit and Word of Christ.
The nature of the spread of novel coronavirus is showing us (a) how small the world is (within a space of 3 months since we first heard of novel coronavirus outbreak in China, the world finds itself in a state of shock, quarantine and immobility), (b) how fragile the world is – with all our technological advances and bureaucracies, we are still vulnerable and susceptible to attack by small and invisible biological agents and elements (c) and how quickly the conditions of life can change around us. Equally, the sting of novel coronavirus has certainly been non-discriminatory, affecting all continents, gender, age and class groups, almost as though we are being reminded of our equality as humanity, regardless of the value of our shelter, automobile or the type of position we hold in society – we are all made up of flesh and blood. Politicians and celebrities have been infected alongside ordinary citizens and the poor.
In particular, the sudden change of conditions of life (even as governments find themselves having to activate regimes or legal mechanisms like the State of Disaster here in South Africa and various measures in different parts of the world) reminds us of this scripture, “while people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape”. NIV (1 Thes. 5:3). This scripture speaks to us about the suddenness of change of life conditions and how human insight will always be limited to predict and clearly figure out the future. They say, “peace and safety” but the resultant outcome is “destruction”, the very opposite of the predicted outcome. This scripture is not speaking even about long term predictions of man, it’s dealing with what is in fact within man’s view. Man’s research and statistical systems even about impending events is still limited to fully and accurately provide insight and intelligence about the future. This as governments scramble to seek this valuable information in order to govern their nations better, like ancient kings who periodically gathered their wise men to seek to understand the unfolding of events of life.
Having noted this reality, and after looking at the question of how to do church in this crisis of novel coronavirus, the question that remains for humans generally and for us who believe in Christ specifically is how exactly are we supposed to engage the current moment? What are the drivers that must inform and shape our behavior and actions? The word “drivers” here refers to internal values and positions that give definition to outer behavior and action. The Scripture tells us that “as a man thinks, so is he” (Prov 23:7). That is, our behavior and actions do reflect something about the state of our inner life – our beliefs, worldview, mindset and attitudes. In a crisis like the one we are going through, you just need to look at people’s actions to figure out their attitudes towards God, fellow citizens, government etc.
Over and above the fact that we all need to respond to the current crisis with prayer (which is still an activity that must be informed by inner drivers in one way or another, and whose effectiveness must be determined by the extent to which those drivers are aligned with the counsel of God’s word), I would like to submit the following three drivers that I feel the Lord pressing in my heart and which can make church’s presence in communities even more effective during this crucial time.
Driver 1: Faith to engage the current Prophetic Moment – the famous word that is used in Scriptures and that is relevant to the current situation is the word “kairos”, which is generally translated as “time or season”. The word kairos means an occasion or an opportunity, a time at which foreordained events take place. Implied in this word is (a) the ability to see the movements of God in the midst of life events and conditions, (b) the ability to figure out appropriate prophetic responses to life’s situations, (c) insight to discover and establish pre-ordained actions in the midst of a particular moment. In the well-known story of David and Goliath (1 Sam. 17), the real issue wasn’t simply the defeating of a Philistine’s warrior by a young Israelite, it was in fact the establishment of young David upon the throne of Israel. It was the events that took place on that day that prepared the way and ushered David to the throne, in accordance with Samuel’s prophecy (1 Sam. 16:11-13). After David fought and defeated Goliath, the women began to sing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Sam. 18:6-7). God was moving in David’s life, from a private ceremony of being prophesied as king by Samuel (1 Sam. 16:11-13), to being acknowledged by the nation as one fitting to be the king. Had David not confronted Goliath that day, not only was Israel going to be defeated by the Philistines, but David’s ascendancy to the throne was not going to be realized. Goliath was “the crisis”, in the same way that novel coronavirus is, but the establishment of David upon the throne was the real moment or kairos. In this sense, a kairos is a circumstance (life situation or event) that creates an opportunity for the fulfillment or realization of the Purposes of God, provided those in the moment respond timely and correctly (like David). In a sense, Goliath’s mocking of the armies of Israel set just the perfect conditions for David to emerge in the scene (1 Sam. 17:8-11). In a time when every warrior in Israel was imprisoned by fear, David was divinely provoked by the Holy Spirit to go to the battlefield – it was his moment (1 Sam. 17:32). We must discern conditions that are terrifying in the eyes of man, but that are creating a platform for us to step into the Purposes of God!
The enemy that hinders us from engaging the prophetic moment is fear and an escapist mentality. It is when we use religion like a “drug” so that we don’t feel the moment. Let us be encouraged to not “run away” from the moment back into our usual church programs and routines. This is a special time requiring that we consider and reflect life as it unfolds before us. Even as we gather as churches, let not the gatherings and even the things we preach constitute the drugging of our souls. We must be encouraged to engage the moment, not for the sake of the moment itself but so that we may hear the voice of God in the moment. We must be in the human condition with the people, see and track the news and let all these things minister to our hearts to catalyze the voice of God within. Like Nehemiah, we must examine the situation before us – and this does not mean violating the guidelines of social distancing etc., but we can easily do the examination by following the news, statistics, and by talking to fellow believers, friends and neighbours.
Neh 2:13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. NIV
The word “examine” means to scrutinize with an expectation and a hope for newness. Thus, this word carries two dimensions of (a) observation and information gathering as well as (b) developing insight concerning a future that could emerge out of the brokenness or crisis. In other words, this word does not merely speak of “gathering data” and being paralyzed by it, it speaks of being inspired by brokenness that’s before us. In reality, the word describes a process of hearing the voice of God in and through a crisis. If the church is not in the moment of the current pandemic, and if she escapes through her usual programs and routines, and by superficial preaching, we will miss the opportunity to hear the voice of God for life after the pandemic.
In the days of Nehemiah, there were different groups or categories of people that had different relationships with the crisis: (A) Hanani was simply occupied with “newspaper commentary” about Jerusalem (Neh. 1:1-3). (B) Sanballet had an evil interest and wanted to keep the situation unchanged (Neh. 2:10). (C) There were marginalized Jews who were waiting for someone to activate them (Neh. 2:17-18). (D) And then there was Nehemiah, who did not only pray about the situation (Neh. 1:4) but who also took sacrificial action (Neh. 2:1-9). We want to be a Nehemiah in the current moment!
Driver 2: Responsible Citizenship – Romans ch. 13 is one of the scriptures that give us a framework for good and responsible citizenship. It talks about the theology of the State and our responsibility as those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ but who exist in geopolitical spaces under earthly government. We are exhorted to honour the State for the sake of our faith and conscience, not because of fear (Rom. 13:5). The apostle Peter confirms this by stating, “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority among men” (1 Pet. 2:13). The phrase “for the Lord’s sake” is important here – fundamentally, the spirit of Christ and the Cross is not one of rebellion against the State, it is one of submission to legal processes but only to invoke even a higher authority of God for the redemption of mankind. He whom we serve stood before Pilate (a mere earthly authority) and made a good confession (1 Tim. 6:13). We are to follow His example! Romans 13:8 continues to exhort us to “love our neighbor as ourselves”. The context of “neighbor” in verse 8 is not fellow church members, but it’s fellow citizens. All of this speaks about two things, (a) our actions must honour the State, (b) and also honour our fellow citizens. In this regard, if the church aspires to be “the head and not the tail” or a leader in society, then she must honour the laws, the regime and constitutional mechanisms that have been put in place by our government to mitigate the current crisis and ensure human well-being and justice. We must realize that the current guidelines coming from government and informing how we must engage the current situation are not mere suggestions but legal prescriptions. The state of disaster is informed by the Disaster Management Acts – this is a law aimed at saving lives. As long as we believe that the government is neither overreacting nor using the current legal framework for some other hidden and unjust agenda, then we must cooperate fully in this process. If we as church want government and civil society to respect and take us seriously now and in the future, then we must act responsibly in this current moment. We must advance the Kingdom of God and the faith within the legal framework before us.
Part of fulfilling our citizenship responsibility also involves praying for the government (“those in authority”) and for our fellow citizens (“all men”) so that there may be peace and stability in the land (1 Tim. 2:1-4). It is time to pray for our nation and the nations of the world!
Driver 3: Keep the Fellowship – we must honour social distancing without cutting off structures of fellowship in our hearts. Social distancing deals with minimizing unnecessary public movement.
At the very least, (a) we must maintain a greater sense of identification with fellow brothers and sisters in our hearts, (b) and hold them in prayer before God as they do the same for us.
We can use several cost-effective technological options to stay connected – we can share our faith, pray together and even share light social moments via technological platforms.
Where possible and with appropriate measures of social distancing and hygiene practices (e.g. avoidance of public transport, washing of hands, avoiding handshakes, general sanitation and staying home when sick), we can still visit one another in small scale fellowship engagements, even if it’s for brief moments, so that we can exchange dynamic spiritual energies of faith, prayer and even share light moments together.
Fellowship is one of the cornerstones of the church (Acts 2:42). It is a means by which we share in our faith and inspire one another in the Lord. If there is one thing that must happen post this pandemic, especially to disciples of Christ, it is a greater sense of oneness and togetherness in Christ. We are not called to face these moments alone but together as the Body of Christ.
We started 2020 with the news of the outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) in Wuhan, China. I remember presenting a range of global events to the church during our first 2020 Sunday gathering. These included the USA–Iran military tension, wildfires in Australia and of course the coronavirus, among other things. At the time, this virus was a distant crisis that was affecting parts of China’s society. As we moved into the second month of the year, the virus was clearly spreading across the globe with numbers of infections increasing particularly in Italy and Iran. Then the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a global pandemic and identified Europe as the new epicenter of the outbreak after China. We equally began to see the inevitable reality of infections right within our nation – South Africa. By this time, coronavirus was no longer a distant crisis, it was right at our doorsteps as numbers of infections were slowly but surely going up. At the time of the president’s press statement last Sunday evening (15th March 2020), we had 61 confirmed infections in SA.
All these developments necessitated for the cabinet to discuss this unfolding crisis and chart the way forward. We all watched our TVs and smartphones with anticipation as the president presented to the nation of South Africa the outcomes and resolutions of his cabinet meeting on the outbreak of coronavirus. During this press statement, the president informed us that the Disaster Management Act (state of disaster) had been activated as a constitutional mechanism to help the government manage the crisis at hand. The purpose of this Act is “to provide for an integrated and co-ordinated disaster management policy that focuses on preventing or reducing the risk of disasters, mitigating the severity of disasters, emergency preparedness, rapid and effective response to disasters and post-disaster recovery”. With this state of disaster comes a range of powers and regulations that will help the government to contain the spread of the virus, preventing it from causing more harm to the citizens of the Republic of South Africa. Of particular relevance to the churches is the prohibition of gatherings of more than 100 people. However, it is important to state that the same regulation affects Arts and Culture, Sports, political and cultural gatherings and a range of other sectors, including Education. Consequently, we’ve seen a range of events being cancelled or postponed. Important to also state that this is not only a South African phenomenon, events are being cancelled worldwide.
The church or churches are now faced with making decisions in line with the stated regulations of the Disaster Management Act. The following factors and issues are some of the things that the church has to consider in the decision-making process…
It’s important to acknowledge that church is an apostolic community. The apostolicity of the church means that we operate with the spirit of forward movement that has no reverse gear option. Anything that affects the fulfillment of our apostolic mission to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God can very easily be seen as an interruption and irritation. However, like the early church, we must serve God with faith, but acknowledging circumstances that surround us and that must be considered in the process of ministry. Whenever the early church was faced with such interruptions, they went back to the drawing board to pray. It was in those moments that the Lord directed them. They often discovered God and His purpose in the midst of a crisis. The current time and situation calls for the church to pray. The power of prayer must not be rooted in big public gatherings, perhaps in stadiums or other platforms, but saints must lift up their hands and pray to God from their homes. This is the time to show the reality of the priesthood of all the saints – a church experience that is guided by leadership and that is characterized by the power of the Circle of Life and the bonfire of the Holy Spirit.
It’s equally important to acknowledge the fact that the prohibition of gatherings of more than 100 people is not an attack on the church. This does in fact affect other sectors of society, i.e. Sports, Arts and Culture etc.
The state of disaster is perhaps a good precautionary measure in a country like South Africa with a section of the population with pre-existing underlying health problems.
We understand and uphold the values of human interaction and community as primary mechanisms to impart and transfer the Life of Christ from one person to another (Rom. 1:11). The very mechanism by which this virus is spreading, which is human contact, is the same Biblical mechanism by which the Life of Christ must be transferred. We are to go out and interact with people as we make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). We are to lay hands on the sick (Mark 16:18) – this speaks of human contact. We are to exemplify the Life of Christ before others (Matt. 5:16, Phil. 4:9) – this speaks of access, proximity and fellowship. We are not to forsake (physically) gathering together (Heb. 10:25), for how nice and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity (Ps. 133).
Church has a moral duty to cooperate with the State in promoting human well-being. This is done out of recognizing the State as the agency of divine authority with a mandate from God to administer justice (Rom. 13:1-5). In 1 Tim. 2:1-3, the mandate of the Church (which is to bring salvation to man) is put alongside the mandate of the State, of establishing peace and prosperity. Although Church and the State work independent of each other, one with the mechanism of grace and the other with the mechanism of law, one with the vision of eternal life and the other with the vision of earthly well-being, they do share a common interest in the human enterprise. They are the two streams of God that must come to a point of confluence, for human well-being to be effectively realized. This is despite the fact that history shows a hostile relationship between Church and the State – from the times of Moses and Pharaohs, through the Prophets, to the time of Jesus, the early church and the Roman Caesars. History does equally show times of cooperation between kings and prophets like Joseph and the Pharaoh of his time. During this time, God released His blessing upon mankind (Gen. 50:20). So when the relationship between these two dimensions of government (Church and the State) is established according to God’s order, the result will be peace, cooperation and harmony.
Equally, church has the moral duty to do ministry in a Biblical and responsible way, and to ensure the safety and well-being of believers and congregants. Surely that duty should not have to be imposed by the government on the church.
Church is called to be a community and not just a Sunday morning congregation (Ps. 133). And the principle of community must originate from internal structures of the faith, and not from external elements like physical church buildings. We associate with Christ and the community of fellow disciples, and not with church venues and buildings. If our inability to access the church building results in a crisis of faith and or of church membership, then we have a problem deeper than the coronavirus.
It is time for church to realize that whilst we desire for more people to get saved, simply because this is God’s desire, but what makes us strong as churches is not public gatherings, it is the Acts 2:42 pillars of doctrine prayer, fellowship and the breaking of bread.
We equally must realize that the five-fold duty to equip the saints in the faith and in life is going to become important, as we face more sudden interruptions in our church programs in the future (Eph. 4:11-13).
In the context of the current state of disaster, the “gatherings of 100” should not be followed legalistically as a way of “conforming to law”. It should be understood to mean that currently, there is a risk in holding public gatherings of any scale. This risk is obviously minimized with lesser numbers. Moreover, the profile and nature of lifestyle, professions or careers of people gathered should be carefully considered and understood. It is possible to have a meeting of 20 but with a high-risk threshold simply because of lifestyle or careers of those gathered. It is equally possible to have the meeting of 90 people with a low-risk threshold simply because of the profile of those gathered. These dynamics and nuances must be considered. And this further calls for pastors to intimately know their people.
Just like the early church was able to use the technology of the pen and paper to dispense the life of Christ (e.g. letters of Paul to churches), we must be able to use current technologies available to us, to advance the Life of Christ in our day. We must however ensure that such technological mechanisms do not replace the fundamental principles of human interaction and fellowship.
The principle of quarantine is not modern or strange. It was practiced in ancient societies. Miriam, the prophetess, and Moses’ sister was quarantined for 7 days because of leprosy, until she was healed (Numb. 12:1-16). The inspiring story of the faith of the four lepers reveals another situation of humans being quarantined (2 Kings 7:3-4). Jesus also healed the ten men who were quarantined because of leprosy (Luke 17:11-19). When these men saw Jesus, they stood at a distance and asked him to heal them. Standing at distance was a clear observation of self-isolation and avoidance of physical contact. Quarantine is a health protocol that has been followed since ancient times, in order to avoid transmission of disease. As we continue to pray that those who are infected and quarantined will meet the healing power of Jesus like the ten lepers, we must equally promote this health protocol where necessary, for the containment of this disease. If God instructed for Miriam to be quarantined for a while, saying, “confine her outside the camp for seven days”, who are we to stand against this practice?
We cannot impose our convictions on others. And we are to identify with the weak. This is a fundamental principle of the faith (Rom. 14). If people do not feel comfortable attending meetings (where we continue with meetings within the framework of the state of disaster regulations), others in our ranks must have freedom to stay home if they so wish.
Faith vs. hygiene protocol: just like we eat every day for physical health and well-being, we drink water when thirsty and we wash our bodies for cleanliness – we do not neglect these daily physiological practices in the name of faith. That is, we don’t say, “I’m hungry but I believe I shall be filled by faith or I haven’t had a bath but I believe I shall be clean by faith”. So must the frequent washing of hands and the following of hygiene protocols not be seen as lack of faith, but an exercise in proper and responsible humanity.
The current pandemic will most likely change how we do life from now onward. However, it should “normalize” at some stage. That is, we should recognize the fact that we are in a transitional period of some kind, we therefore need to give ourselves space to “study the times” and to understand the groaning of creation (or mankind) so we can not only be a prophetic voice representing God’s Will to mankind but also be a priestly voice representing man’s groaning before God. It is time to pause, pray and assess the human condition. So let’s endure the next couple of weeks and months (if we need to) and see how the situation develops, while we participate in the effort to mitigate the current crisis.
The current situation triggers fear and anxiety (especially for those who do not believe), it therefore creates an environment in which church must trade her precious spiritual commodities of – faith, hope and love (1 Cor. 13:13). We believe in God’s divine providence of healing. But we equally believe in eternal life in Christ in case of death (1 Thes. 4:13). These fundamental beliefs must be preached as basic principles of the Gospel of the Kingdom.
We must confront the pastoral paradigm of numerical growth as a driver of ministry and replace it with the drive to display the nature and love of Christ. The paradigm of numerical growth equally triggers the insecurity of losing members and locks us up in this “numbers game”. This is a dangerous Christianity of books and of the bottom line, which in turn blinds us from administrating matters of life beyond the sphere of Sunday morning or devotional activities. The current crisis requires a new paradigm – one of demonstrating the righteousness of God over the human condition.
We must distinguish between faith and testing the Lord. Faith is inspired by fulfilling God’s agenda, not our agenda. Faith is not an exercise in self-induced, self-highlighting ministry practices. We are not to throw ourselves “down the valley of coronavirus” (by being reckless in our actions), to either make a name for ourselves or “to see if the Lord will not command His angels to save us” – this too is part of the enemy’s temptation and it constitutes sin of testing the Lord (Luke 4:9-12). God is the Healer. He is not a Magician – ie. He does not exercise power for theatrical amusement, entertainment or to prove how powerful a man and woman of God we are. Equally, the quoting of scriptures like Ps. 91 as an act of of rebelling against stipulated health protocols does not prove powerful and responsible faith but recklessness.
If some among us fall sick of this disease, faith must be exercised while respecting health protocols and guidelines. Our duty is to believe and pray, but to also respect the guidelines provided by health authorities. If God decides to supernaturally intervene by healing ministry, that will surely not go unnoticed. But if we claim to speak or act on God’s behalf when He hasn’t sent us, this too will be clear to all. This is not the time of fake or superficial ministry. Equally, we must cooperate with godly medical practices and interventions – this too is a gift and revelation from God. This too is God’s hand of healing. This too is blessing to mankind.
Let us be evangelists of salvation, faith, healing, healthy living, hygiene and ministry of care.
It is the time for the church to restate the theology and prophetic nature of human crisis – crisis turns mankind to God (2 Chron. 7:12-16, Rev. 9:20-21), and it is part of the spiritual mechanism that the Holy Spirit uses to purify and establish us in Christ and in His Kingdom (Rom. 5:3-5, Acts 14:22).
25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken — that is, created things — so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.” NIV
We cannot ignore the fact that every shaking that happens in life removes artificial and ungodly components of life (the dross) and establishes the King and his kingdom (i.e. life as originally created by God) in our lives and environments. In the time of the current crisis or pandemic, we must have eyes to see what it is that is being removed and what it is that is being established. Perhaps the ff. values are being established – true authentic faith in Jesus Christ; community or fellowship centered around Christ and fellow believers, and not on physical buildings; trans-congregational kingdom life and ministry, the priority for nations to be united around true natural human problems instead of being divided by artificial geopolitical agenda (aren’t nations being called around the table to work together in search for a common solution to this pandemic?) Etc.
The duty of leaders is to prepare people to be church in a time when leaders “are not there” (Eph. 4:11-13, Phil. 2:12). This is a fundamental principle in the ministry of Jesus Christ (John 14:1-4). And this was the story of the early church (Acts 11:19-24). We will be seeing more of these “interruptions” as in a woman in labour pains. We must get ready for a coronavirus dispensation of church and ministry!
Lord, we pray for the coming of your Kingdom in our hearts, churches, neighborhoods, cities, nations and continents.